SPOILERS AHEAD

This story begins where DETACHED ends. If you haven’t finished Detached, you may want to back away slowly. These pages are unedited. Once the book is complete, it will be edited and sold as a complete novella.

ESSEX

PROLOGUE

“Tyler?”

Before the blinding pain set in, the first and last thing I saw was a pair of perfect breasts in my face. A woman in a sports bra was bent over me, tears sparkling in her dark eyes.

Baker stood behind her.

Dani was to my left.

Another EMT I didn’t know shined a powerful floodlight on all of us.

An oxygen mask blew cool air up my nose.

“Can you hear me?” the woman asked, her voice creaking with thinly veiled panic.

I nodded, and it fucking hurt.

“Do you know who I am?” She leaned closer.

Her long black hair had fallen over one shoulder, and the side of her head was shaved. A line of metal staples started at her temple and disappeared behind her ear. The metal reflected faint blue and red emergency lights flashing somewhere in the distance.

I forced my watery eyes to focus. She had a slender makeup-less face, with high cheek bones and light-tan skin speckled with what looked like black ink. Her full lips were naturally rosy, and her striking wide eyes were a rich walnut, circled with a black ring.

She was hot—whoever she was.

I shook my head.

Her expression melted like someone cranked up the heat underneath it.

I breathed in deep, bones grinding and crackling somewhere inside my chest. Stars twinkled around the woman’s disappointed face as excruciating pain swept through me. My eyes fell to her cleavage one more time before everything swirled to black again.

 

Chapter 1

“I really don’t want to talk about it. Please.”

Not that my mother would listen. This was the third time she’d asked since I’d gotten here—I looked at my watch—nineteen minutes ago.

She filled two cups of coffee and handed one to me. The mug was a ceramic jack-o-lantern, appropriate for the season, and for the woman decked out in a pumpkin sweater and bat earrings.

Ever wonder why stores put out Easter candy and decor before Valentines? My mother. Mom lived her life from one holiday to the next.

And I knew the reason.

When I was a teenager, I once asked why we decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Her answer was an omen for what lay in store for my future as a cop. She’d said, “Because suicides skyrocket during the holidays, and it’s harder to be sad with jingle bells in the house.”

Fuck, wasn’t that the truth?

But there were certainly worse ways to cope than Halloween decor that started at the driveway. A black raven was perched atop the mailbox. A witch on a broom was plastered face-first into the tree closest to the road. And the front stoop was covered in orange-and-purple lights.

She poured some sweet cream into her mug—a witch’s boot. “Buddy says something like this happened to the captain at the fire department once. He was hit over the head with a falling banister rail…or was it a roof beam? Anyway, he got his memory back with hypnotherapy. Maybe you should look into that.” Her dark red lips puckered behind her mug, and she sucked in her steaming coffee with a loud sputter.

“I’m not trying hypnotherapy.” I rolled my eyes and took a small sip. The black roast singed my lips. “Did you hear they’re calling for snow on Halloween next week?” I asked, desperate for a different subject.

“Yes.” She carried her cup to the barstool beside me at the kitchen island, and I noticed her dark hair was pulled back in a glittery purple clip. “Your dad is in a tizzy. Our snowblower wouldn’t start last night. Oh!” She snapped her fingers at me. “You borrowed it last year to blow off Nyx’s front steps. Do you remember?”

I glared at my mother and put down my coffee. “I think I’m gonna go.”

She grabbed my arm, holding me on my stool. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop. It’s just so…so…” She couldn’t think of the word. No one could. Not my mom, not my doctors, and sure as hell not me.

The department shrink called it systematized amnesia. He said it was possible to forget specific people, but he’d never seen it happen so completely. Saphera Nyx was a black spot in my memory, cleanly cut out of my mind with the precision of a scalpel. And no amount of memory jogging was bringing her back, no matter how hard my mother—and everyone else in Sapphire Lake—tried.

It was exhausting.

I sighed. “I can’t keep talking about it.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” she said again, softer this time. She hooked her arm around my shoulders and pressed a kiss to my temple. “It will get easier, son.”

Doubtful.

“And you’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”

I doubted that too.

“When do you go back to work?” she asked.

“I’m on light duty starting tomorrow. I’ll be stuck in the office for at least the next few weeks.”

“Good.” Mom loved light duty. To her, it equaled safety and sanity. “How are the ribs healing?”

“Slowly.”

A few ribs had broken during CPR, a small consequence considering the alternative. Most people died from hypnox, the strongest known opioid in the world. I’d been poisoned in the field by Nyx’s mother—another infinitely frustrating reason I should remember who she was.

“Are you sleeping any better?”

“Sure.”

Mom’s dirty look said she wasn’t buying it.

“I slept for a full uninterrupted hour last night, which—as sad as it may be—is better.” The full truth was, I hadn’t slept through the night in weeks.

“Are you staying busy at least?” Mom’s question was an important one for those in law enforcement. Quiet and bored were danger zones for those of us in PTSD-prone lines of work. It was something my mother understood well.

“I finished repainting the house and enclosing Karma’s new backyard habitat.” At the mention of his name, Karma’s ears stood to attention. I looked down to where my German shepherd lay on the floor beside my feet. “Hopefully, he’ll like it so much, he’ll stay home.”

“He’s still wandering around the neighborhood?”

“Every chance he gets.”

Karma’s head tilted to the side. He knew we were talking about him.

Behind us, the door to the garage opened, and my stepfather walked in. “Morning, Tyler.”

“Hey, Dad.”

He shirked out of his coat and hung it on the hook in the hallway. Dad was short, shorter than me and almost shorter than Mom. His shoulders and torso were narrow, with deceivingly thin arms and legs. He wore a size seven shoe.

Despite his small stature, Buddy Harris was one of the toughest men I’d ever known. He’d whipped my ass a few times when I’d needed it, teaching me to never judge an opponent by his size—and to never disrespect my mother.

He knelt to pet Karma and looked up at me. His face was unshaven, something rare even post-retirement, and his chin scruff was more white than chestnut brown. “How’s the head? You remembered Nyx yet?”

I groaned.

Mom froze with her mug halfway to her mouth. “Buddy, we’re not talking about that.”

Dad stood and looked like he was about to ask why; then he read the warning on Mom’s face. His eyes swapped confusion for understanding, and he quickly countered. “I mean, when will you be cleared to be back on the road?”

I relaxed. “Probably a few more weeks. I can still hardly stand the weight of my body armor.”

“He starts light duty tomorrow,” Mom added, slurping her coffee.

Dad poured a Frankenstein mug full. “That’ll be fun.”

I smirked. “A blast.”

Dad brought his mug to the opposite side of the island. “Use it to your advantage. Get to know the command staff. Make ’em your friends. That’s the fastest way to the top.”

No one had any delusions about my stepdad’s expectations for my career. He wanted me to make chief, just like he had. And like my biological father, James Essex, had before him. My real dad was now enshrined on the Wall of Heroes at work, killed in the line of duty while I was still in the womb.

“What have you been up to today?” I asked, as anxious to talk about my career path as I was about Nyx.

“I’ve been up at the Drexler.”

Mom leaned against my arm. “He’s determined to perfect his backswing before the snow starts.”

“Did you hear about my snow blower?” Dad asked with a frown.

In a city with more than two hundred inches of snowfall per year, snowblowers were a big deal. I’d developed a strong set of biceps early in life, before we’d had enough money to buy a decent one. Shoveling snow sucked, which was part of the reason I’d moved to the bottom of the Sierras. My neighborhood got half the snow for half the cost of living inside Sapphire Lake’s city limits.

“Mom told me. You’d better take it to Jim’s sooner rather than later.”

“I’m dropping it off today. Hope he can get it fixed. What’s new at the office?” Since he retired, Dad always wanted the dirt that was happening at the police department.

“I haven’t been in much—”

“Good,” Mom interrupted, squeezing my arm.

“What happened with the Stone case and the fires at the Drexler? I saw them finally cleaning up the mess today,” Dad said.

“Chief basically closed the case, saying it an accident.”

Dad snorted. “You believe that?”

“I don’t know what to believe, but there was no evidence of foul play.”

“Besides the woman’s body being ripped in half.”

“Buddy, please,” Mom said with a shudder.

Television personality Ryder Stone and two of his friends had been killed in one of the private chateaus at the Drexler Resort and Casino. Even though I’d been first on scene, arriving even before the place had blown to smithereens, what I could recall about the incident I only knew from the reports I’d read.

Like Saphera Nyx, what had happened at the Drexler was another hole in my memory. She’d been there that night, and it seemed every event connected to her was distorted or completely missing from my mind.

“True, but there’s substantial security video proving no one came or went from the chateau. Chief doesn’t want to waste any more resources on what amounts to a possible animal attack.”

Dad lifted a doubtful eyebrow. “Lots of wild animal attacks lately.”

I shrugged. “We have lots of wild animals in Sapphire Lake.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, son.”

“Buddy,” Mom scolded.

Dad picked up his mug. “Speaking of animal attacks, how’s your team recovering?”

The night I was poisoned, we’d lost one of our own in a similar bloodbath to what had happened at the Drexler. Officer Brian Everly had died at the scene, his body ripped apart, like the woman’s in the chateau. I’d been unconscious for most of it, and had no memories of it. Surprise, surprise.

“None of them talk about what happened that night, at least not to me if they do.”

Dad nodded his understanding, but, almost like he’d never been a cop, he kept talking about it. Per usual, I tuned out.

Like with all the most painful things in law enforcement, what happened in that cemetery would become another black stain that every member of my team would try to block out. It wasn’t the healthiest of coping strategies, but it’s all any of us had time for.

Because no matter the horrors of yesterday, the sad truth of our job remains unchanged: someone else will need us today. And for them we have to show up—even with all our brokenness—because honestly? Who else will?

Cars still crash. Junkies still overdose. People still die.

Every goddamn day.

And civilians wonder why a lot of cops drink, why their families often fall apart, and why sometimes, they just fucking lose it.

Dad was still talking, and I checked back into the conversation at the wrong time…

“Lots of bodies get torn in half around the Nyx family.”

I flinched at the name.

“Doubt I’m the only one who’s connected those dots.” Dad sipped from Frankenstein’s skull. “And I’ll bet Joe Magnus’s sites have been set on your girlfriend since she opened her pretty mouth to the press.”

My jaw tightened. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

But Dad was right about one thing: Magnus absolutely had a bone to pick with Nyx.

In the publicity stunt of the century, she had outed the mayor and district attorney for trying to frame an innocent man for the deaths at the Drexler. By leaking confidential videos to the press, she’d set fire to her career, nearly burning up our whole department with it.

“At least she didn’t let that poor young man go to prison,” Mom said.

“Yeah. Even Chief praised her for that.”

“Maybe to her face,” Dad grumbled.

“In the office too. He’s instructed us all to move past it.”

“He sounds like a good chief,” Mom said.

I nodded. “I think so.”

Dad grunted again, unconvinced. No chief after him would ever measure up. Probably not even me.

And he wondered why I was so reluctant to advance.

“Is Nyx moving past what happened?” Dad asked, not meeting my eyes.

“I don’t know what Nyx is doing.” Every muscle in my body tensed.

“You haven’t talked to her at all?”

My brow pressed together. “No.”

“He doesn’t want to talk about it,” Mom muttered without moving her lips.

“What? I just asked if he’s—”

“I haven’t. Thanks.” The words were louder than I intended. I looked at my watch again. I had nowhere to be. “We’d better get going.” As I stood, I clicked my tongue against my back teeth. Karma’s tags jingled as he got up, tail wagging.

“Tyler, don’t go,” Mom begged.

“I’m sorry,” Dad said. “I shouldn’t have brought her up—”

I held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t worry about it. I really need to get home anyway. Some of the guys are taking me out.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. Our shift’s second Sunday off every month was always “Sunday Funday.” My parents just didn’t need to know it wasn’t happening until tonight.

Mom got up. “Well, that’s nice of them.”

“Yeah.” I hugged her. “Thanks for the coffee.”

She kissed my cheek. “I’m glad you stopped by.”

Karma and I paused halfway to the door, and I turned back toward my stepdad. His face had fallen, full of guilt for instigating my exit. “Dad, do you need help loading the snow blower?”

He looked up. “Uh…no. Thank you though.”

“I really don’t mind.”

“Should you be moving heavy things?” Mom asked beside him.

“I can help,” I said.

“I’ve got it under control. I am sorry, son.”

“It’s OK, Dad.” I started toward the door again. 

“Oh, Tyler, wait!” Mom hurried to the refrigerator. “I was going to bring this by later, but since you’re here . . .” She pulled out a disposable tin dish and closed the door. “It’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes.”

“You really don’t have to keep feeding me. I’m perfectly capable of—”

She thrust the pan into my hands. “You’re hurt; I’ll mother you. It’s in my job title.”

“Thanks.”

Dad joined Mom, and they followed me to the front door.

She hugged me one more time like she might never see me again, another side-effect from my brush with death. “Don’t overdo it tomorrow.”

“I won’t.” I shook my father’s hand. “Dad.”

He pumped my fist. “Say hi to Magnus for me.”

“Will do.” I opened the door, and the brisk mountain air whooshed in. I shuddered. “The temperature is dropping fast.”

“Yes, it is,” Mom said, pulling her orange cardigan tight.

“Karma, heir.” My dog followed me to the truck, and Mom waved from the door when we got into the cab. When she walked back inside, I popped a couple of antacids from the half-empty bottle in my console. Then I reclined against the headrest and closed my eyes.

How could every conversation still be so hard? Even with my family? Work was going to suck, and the well of dread was getting deeper and deeper simply thinking about Sunday Funday with the guys. The questions were bound to come, especially once the beer started flowing. Not to mention we’d probably go to Winter Village—Nyx’s neighborhood.

I pulled out my phone and saw a handful of new messages from the shift’s group chat. Day or night, it never stopped dinging. The last text was from Baker, addressed to me. Sarge, you in? They were talking about our plans.

I closed my eyes. There was no choice. We’d all been through hell that night in the cemetery. They needed me to get my shit together. Fast. I couldn’t bail on them now.

Where are we going? I replied.

Rivera responded first. Sin City Tacos

Your favorite, Jones added.

I smiled. At least it wasn’t Winter Village. Sounds great. What time?

Baker: See you shitheads at 7

I felt a little better on the drive home. Over the mountain pass, Karma hung his head out the window, tongue flapping on the chilly breeze. I scratched his neck as I turned off the highway toward my neighborhood, far away from the department, the cemetery, and all my painful missing memories.

A rusty green coupe with expired tags was stopped on the green light. I honked my horn, and the driver’s eyes flashed with alarm toward the rear view mirror. I could barely see her through the boxes piled in her back seat.

With a startled lurch, she turned onto my street.

I patiently followed as the car slowed at every mailbox. Obviously lost, the woman turned on her emergency flashers. I started to pull around her when she floored the gas, drove two houses up, and squealed into the driveway of a one-level ranch.

A black Rubicon with a U-Haul was backed up to the front door.

And Saphera Nyx was standing on the lawn.

Chapter 2

My heart thumped against my sore breastbone. I held up a few fingers in response to her wave and pressed the gas pedal so hard the engine roared. Karma barked merrily out the window as I sped on.

What the hell was she doing here?

With a moving trailer?

In my neighborhood?

Acid burned up my esophagus.

Around the bend, up the street, I whipped into my driveway and slammed the transmission into park. I swore, pounding the heel of my hand against the steering wheel.

Karma slurped my nose when I reached for my phone that had slid under him. I hooked my arm around his neck and leaned my forehead against him. “At least I’ve got you.” I scratched the back of his head. “And, at least this week, you’re not a pain in my ass. Come on. Let’s go inside.”

Inside, I slipped off my boots by the door to protect the two-thousand-dollars-worth of laminate flooring I’d just had installed. The walls were freshly painted light gray, and the furniture had all been replaced. For the sake of my home, I was thankful for my time off. The house had needed the attention after Karma had gone apeshit with a can of red house paint. My bank account, however, was very ready for me to go back to work.

I tossed my keys onto the new coffee table and walked to the refrigerator in the open kitchen. It was full of food, a byproduct of my medical groundation. When I’d still been on patrol, the fridge rarely had more than beer and spoiled milk. I pulled out a carton of eggs and a bag of shredded cheddar.

My phone buzzed in my pocket.

I wonder if it’s her.

The thought invaded my brain before I could stop it. My chest tightened as a look at the screen. It wasn’t Nyx. It was my big boss, police chief Joseph Magnus.

“This is Essex.” I pinched the phone against my ear with my shoulder as I reached for a mixing bowl in the cabinet.

“Essex, Chief Magnus.”

I put the mixing bowl on the counter and opened the utensils drawer for a whisk. “Morning, Chief. What can I do for you?”

“Sorry to bother you on your day off, but I wanted to call and make sure you feel up to returning to work tomorrow.”

“It’s nice of you to call. I’m much better and looking forward to getting back in the office.” I put a frying pan on the electric burner and cranked the heat up to medium-high.

“How long will you be on light duty?”

I cracked an egg into the bowl. “My doctor thinks about two weeks. I have a follow-up appointment Wednesday morning. I’ll have a more solid answer then.”

“Excellent news. Your team has missed you.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. They hadn’t really worked for me long enough to miss me. I had only been their sergeant for a week when my career hit its indefinite snooze button. “I’ve missed working with them too.” That much was absolutely true. All the silence and solitude were about to kill me.

“How’s the memory?”

The conversation had gone on longer than I ever would have imagined without mention of my brain defect. I cracked another egg into the bowl. “About the same. But I don’t believe it will affect my ability to do my job.”

“I have no doubt about that. Come see me tomorrow when you get to the office. We’ve had some interesting calls I’d like you to get to the bottom of.”

“Interesting?”

The word “interesting” could be dangerous in our line of work.

“I think so. Don’t worry. It won’t require anything you’re not medically cleared for.”

Great.

“Looking forward to it.”

“Enjoy the rest of your day off, Sergeant. We’ll be running you ragged soon enough.”

“10-4, sir.”

The chief hung up, and I dumped my eggs into the frying pan. What the hell could he want me to do?


It had been months since I’d had more than a beer in one sitting, so I called an Uber, just to be safe. Karma signaled its arrival with howling and clattering nails across the laminate. He was standing on his hind legs, propped up in the front window when I made it to the living room. One paw was tangled in the new curtains.

“Karma, platz. You’ll rip down the curtain rod.” I pulled the dog off the windowsill.

A loud engine rumbled outside. A machine just shy of a monster truck sat in my driveway. Its headlights flashed as I looked outside. I held up a finger to signal the driver to wait.

I hadn’t checked the app, but I was sure they were early. Odd, because there weren’t many rideshare drivers in Sapphire Lake.

I made sure the new dog door to the backyard was unlocked, and I filled Karma’s food bowl with kibble. He trotted beside me, back to the front door. I pointed at him. “I want this place intact when I get home.”

He plopped onto his belly, resting his muzzle between his paws.

“Stop pouting,” I said.

He didn’t look at me.

“Be a good boy, and I’ll bring you home a treat.”

At the word “treat,” Karma perked up.

“I mean it.”

He barked.

I locked the front door behind me, and on the walk to the truck, I checked my app. Reading the name of the driver, I froze before reaching the passenger-side door. “Shit.”

The window rolled down. “Evening, Sarge.”

Ransom Nyx. Saphera’s older brother.

I hadn’t seen him in person since we’d both been poisoned in the cemetery, and even then, I didn’t remember much about it, other than he was present.

“Mr. Nyx.”

“Hell, you and I almost died together. Call me Ransom. You ready?”

I glanced at the house again. Karma was back at the window. He barked when we locked eyes. It would be awkward as fuck if I abandoned the ride. And if I did, no doubt word that I chickened out would spread across town before I could even make it back inside.

I reached up—way up—for the door handle and pulled myself into the giant cab. “This is a surprise,” I said, closing the heavy door behind me.

“Yeah. I started this gig a couple of weeks ago when I left the Drexler.”

“You left?”

“Quit last month.” Ransom checked his phone in the cradle on the dash. “You’re going to Sin City?”

“Please.” I buckled my seatbelt. The truck smelled like cologne and testosterone.

The gears clunked into reverse. He stretched a thick, long arm across the back of my seat to turn around. “Lucky for you I was right down the street when you called for a ride.”

“Yep. Lucky for me,” I muttered. “What were you doing down the street?”

He did a three-point turn in the street. “I was at Paps and Gran’s place.” The weight of the massive truck shifted sluggishly as he started forward. “Well, at my sister’s now, I guess.”

“Your sister’s place?” Nausea boiled inside me.

On top of his steering wheel, he pointed at the house I’d seen Nyx at earlier. Her Jeep was still out front, sans U-Haul. “Yep. Got her and Bess all moved in today.”

“She lives here now?”

“Yep.”

“In my neighborhood?”

“Well, yeah. She couldn’t afford to stay in Winter Village without the fat discount for being a cop. Paps is letting her stay here until we get our business off the ground.”

“Your business?”

At the traffic light, Ransom reached into the console between us, and with a tattooed hand, pulled out a sheet of paper. He handed it to me.

The homemade flyer said “SPECTER” in beveled letters across the top. The title was followed by a clipart cartoon of a black figure with a spyglass. My eyes stopped scanning the glob of text at the first sight of the name Saphera. “What’s Specter?”

“Private eye firm.” I offered him back the flyer, and he refused it. “Keep it. You might need us someday.”

“You and Nyx?”

“Yeah. She’s the brains of the operation.” He flexed. “I’m the muscle.”

I didn’t doubt that. I’d read his rap sheet, which was as long as my arm. Ransom “the Sandman” Nyx was a former MMA fighter, with arrests (mostly drug charges) in three different states.

The light turned green, and the truck grumbled through the intersection.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

He lifted a shoulder. “We’re still building our client list.”

So, not well.

“But It’ll take off soon. I picked up the flyers today, so I’m gonna put ’em out all over town tonight.”

The side of my face screwed up with doubt. His plan probably wasn’t the best way to come off as professional sleuths, but it wasn’t my problem. And I really didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

I folded the flyer. “Thanks for this.” I leaned to the side and tucked it into my back pocket.

“You bet.” We started toward the mountain pass, and I could almost hear the questions churning in his head. “How are you feeling these days?” he finally asked.

“Still sore, but it’s getting better. I go back to the department tomorrow.”

“Back to nightshift?”

“No. I’ll be working regular business hours in the office until I’m cleared to return to full duty.”

“Ah, you’ll be the paper bitch.”

I smiled. “Something like that.”

“Saphera always called it that.”

I looked out the side window. “How is she?”

“About to drive me fucking crazy.” He shook his head and turned on his high beams up the steep mountain road. “I don’t know how you put up with her so long.”

I didn’t know how I did either—literally.

“She misses the job though.” He glanced over at me. “Misses you too.”

I looked away. “I heard you don’t have any side effects from the poison.”

“Nah.” Ransom chuckled. “But I wouldn’t read too much into that. I probably didn’t have as many brain cells left to kill as you.”

I tried to laugh and failed.

“You got a hot date tonight?” he asked, checking over his shoulder before changing lanes to pass an SUV with an expired tag.

I shook my head. “Hanging out with some of the guys from the team.”

“Sunday Funday?”

“Yeah.” Of course he would know about it. This is the first one we’d had without his sister.

“How are they doing? I imagine still pretty torn up about Everly.”

My nausea returned like a boomerang.

“It’s not something you really get over.”

He sighed. “I bet. I am sorry about what happened to him.”

“Thanks.”

“They still saying it was an animal?”

“Yep.”

“Hmm…”

Ransom let it drop after that, and we rode the rest of the way in silence. If he was stewing over what we’d been through in the cemetery, he kept quiet about it.

It was a short ride to Sin City Tacos, and when we pulled into the parking lot, a few of the guys were outside.

“Here you are,” Ransom said, shifting into park.

I opened the door. “I appreciate it. Tell Nyx I said…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Don’t sweat it, Sarge. I’ll tell her you said hello.”

“Thanks.” I slid out of the truck.

“Hey!”

I paused with my hand still on the door.

He pointed at me. “Leave me five stars, and I’ll buy you a beer next time I see ya.”

“You got it.” I closed the door and waited for him to drive past.

When Ransom was gone, on the other side of where the tuck had been, Corporal Mason Baker’s mouth was gaping. “Was that who I think it was?”

I stuffed my hands in my coat pockets and walked over. “Yeah.”

Next to Baker, Jadon Rivera lifted an eyebrow. “You two buddies now?”

“He was my Uber driver.”

Baker choked back a laugh. “And he was randomly assigned to you?”

“The universe hates me, I know.” I stepped up to the entrance beside them.

Baker hooked his arm around my neck. “Well, you can rest assured, we’ve all made a deal.”

“What deal?”

“Nobody brings up Nyx.” He jerked his head toward the truck that was pulling onto the road. “Or anything to do with her.”

I relaxed for the first time in weeks as Rivera held open the door. “Come on, Sarge. First round’s on me.”

Chapter 3

I dabbed my eyes on the back of my sleeve. For the first time in weeks, my ribs hurt only from laughing.

“If I’m lying, I’m dying,” Eric Jones said, crossing his heart. His laughter vibrated the whole table. “Ask Rivera. He caught the whole thing on his car’s camera.”

“Better than that…” Across from me, Rivera reached into his coat, which was hanging on the back of his chair. “I transferred the video to my phone.”

I finished my last swig of Sierra Nevada Hazy IPA. “I’ve got to see this.”

Rivera angled his chair and turned his phone’s screen to face us. He turned the volume all the way up and tapped play.

On the screen, Jones’s black patrol car pulled straight into his end parking space, next to the grass. The driver’s door opened slightly, and Jones’s shiny bald head reflected the interior light. With one foot out of the car, Jones paused to say something to his new trainee in the passenger’s seat.

“I was telling him to pack up his gear, lock up, and bring my keys inside. I was late for a training officers’ meeting,” Jones explained, while on screen, he got out and jogged toward the police station. “This is it.”

The passenger-side door opened.

All five of us leaned close.

The trainee got out. Stepped back…

And disappeared.

My eyes bugged, searching the screen.

At the head of the table, Jones cracked up again. “Poof! He’s gone!”

A second later, the new guy climbed out of a hole Jones had apparently parked beside in the dark. Every inch from his forehead to his fingertips that the camera could see was covered in mud. As the guy climbed out of the hole, I didn’t have to hear the audio to know he was swearing.

He slammed the car door so hard he slipped again, crashing hard onto his hip before sliding back out of sight.

“Oh!” Baker covered his mouth.

I pointed at Jones. “You did that shit on purpose.”

Jones held up both hands. “I swear I had no idea.”

Rivera grinned and put the phone away. He picked up his drink. “Someone may have removed the caution tape.”

“It was you?” Baker asked.

Rivera laughed, and Jones’s mouth fell open.

“I didn’t mean to get the new guy.” Rivera shrugged, grinning at Jones. “You always back into your space.”

“You motherfucker!” Jones’s eyes doubled. “You tried to put my ass into that hole?”

If Rivera responded, I couldn’t hear him. I was laughing so hard I buried my eyes in my arm on the table.

“You’re such a dick, Rivera,” Jones said.

“I know.”

I sat back in my chair. “Man, that’s funny. Poor guy.”

“Eh, it’s good for him,” Rivera said. “It’s not like he broke anything.”

“How do you think he’s doing?” I asked Jones. I hadn’t even met the newcomer to our shift.

“Aside from falling in holes?” Jones asked.

“Yeah.”

He rubbed his hand over his smooth head. “I don’t know. He’s good with handling the car. And he’s good with the book shit, the roads and the law…”

“But?”

“He’s just green. Kinda timid, you know?”

I did know. Everly had just started to ripen when he was… My breath hitched.

Jones continued. “We got called to that suicide last night at the bridge, and the kid choked. Found him puking in the bushes outside.”

“Was it his first one?” I asked.

Jones nodded.

Baker lifted a shoulder. “Don’t we all puke the first time?”

The table was silent. Everyone looked everywhere but at each other.

“Not me,” Rivera said and took another drink from his bottle.

“That’s because you have no soul, asshole,” Jones said.

We all laughed again.

“I’ll hang around the station for shift briefing tomorrow. Bring the rookie by so I can meet him,” I said to Jones.

“Roger that, Sarge.”

“When will you be back on the road with us?” he asked.

“Hopefully, soon. Why? Baker not keeping shit together?” I asked with a grin.

Baker wadded up his napkin and threw it at me. “Correction. You’d better get your ass back to work before I take over your job permanently.”

“I’ll take that challenge.” I smiled, knowing Baker would make one hell of a sergeant someday. “I should be back soon. I tell ya, almost dying sucks.”

“None of us envy what you went through,” Jones said.

Rivera picked his lower teeth with a sliver of plastic from his soda lid. “None of us envy being a paper bitch either.”

“I know,” I grumbled. “Chief called earlier and said has a special project for me. Probably reorganizing the filing system.”

Jones finished the last swig of his beer. “Could be logistics for the snow next week. Or the upcoming election.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “He specifically mentioned they’ve had some ‘interesting calls’ that he wants me to handle. Any idea what that’s about?”

Rivera lifted his shoulders.

“Bet I know,” Baker said as Jones shook his head. “I heard they got a lot of calls about bad dreams today.” Baker was dating a girl from dispatch, so he always heard about the craziest calls before any of us.”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“You heard me.” Baker leaned his elbows on the table. “It gets better. Different people. No connection. Same dream.”

“What was the dream?” Rivera asked.

“Bodies popping up out of the lake.”

Jones’s face soured. “That’s messed up.”

“No bodies have actually been found right?” I asked, certain I would have heard about that.

Baker grinned. “Not yet.”

Next to me, Jones shuddered.

Rivera noticed. “Got the willies, Jones?”

“Whatcha thinking about my willy for, Rivera?” Jones’s quip was an effective redirection, but despite the laughs, we were all thinking the same thing.

No cop wants the shit we dream about to start coming true. Our nightmares are born from real horrors that civilians only see in movies.

Thankfully, the only positive byproduct of my ordeal was I hadn’t slept enough lately for the dreams to find me. My nights were spent in bed, dozing sporadically between internal debates about adding my dated popcorn ceiling to the home-renovations list.

The thought triggered a yawn.

Across the table, Rivera and Baker suddenly perked up in their seats like a couple of meerkats. I knew what was happening behind me before I even look. Carly Austin, the night manager of Sin City, was approaching.

I wondered if I might have to wipe the drool off Rivera’s chin.

“Another round for my favorite boys?” She bent across the table between me and Jones to stack our empty baskets, her cavernous cleavage devouring the guys’ attention like a black hole.

“Not for me,” I, alone, answered.

For my comrades, her jiggly breasts were shouting so loud they drowned out the words from her mouth. The red-and-purple plaid button-up, cinched tight beneath her push-up bra, wasn’t helping. Neither were the dark jeans vacuum fitted to her ass.

“Hey!” I clapped my hands.

Jones blinked. “Uh…what?”

I tossed my napkin, and it bounced off his cheek. “Does anyone want another round?” I repeated.

“Oh.” Jones looked around at the other guys. “I’m all done. Gotta drive home.”

“Back to your wife?” I teased.

“Yep.” He let the “p” pop off his lips as he looked everywhere but at Carly.

“I could be convinced, if you’ll sit down and have one with me,” Rivera said to her, practically licking his lips.

“Oh, I would if I could”—I doubted that—“but we’re slammed tonight.” Two beer bottle necks clinked together when she picked them up. “I’ve been in the back grilling chicken and mixing pico because one of our cooks didn’t show up.”

“I was worried we weren’t gonna see you.” Rivera’s eyes flashed toward the parking lot. “I noticed your car in the lot.”

“Stalker,” Baker muttered.

“You know I couldn’t let you leave without saying hello.” She winked, and I thought Rivera might melt in his chair. “Sarge, you sure you don’t want one more?”

“No, thanks. I have to work tomorrow.”

“That’s a shame.” She hugged the empty bottles to her chest and pouted, batting her thick eyelashes in a practiced way that I was sure usually worked in her favor.

With her ghostly blue eyes, plump lips, and naturally blonde hair, Carly was, without question, a pretty girl. But damn, she knew it. A major turnoff, in my book. While I admired her confidence, and the way she capitalized on her good genetics, her charms were lost on me.

Soon, she’d be working nights at Sin City and days at Sapphire Mountain Ski Resort. Even now that she was a full-time manager, she still considered the restaurant her side gig. Like a lot of locals, Carly lived for the ski slopes. Rumor was, she’d even turned down a modeling contract in Los Angeles for them.

“How are you healing, Sarge?” she asked.

“One day at a time.”

Her eyes swept around the table. “Where’s Nyx?”

Ugh.

“She quit,” Baker answered for me.

Carly’s head jolted back as a busboy took the beer bottles from her. “Really? The GI Jane of Sapphire Lake?”

“GIs are military,” Jones said.

“Wasn’t she in the military?” Carly asked.

“She was.” I only knew because I’d studied her file since the accident. A file that contained a letter of recommendation I had no memory of writing.

“I can’t believe she’s gone.” Carly’s gaze fell to me again. Her free hand slid over my shoulder and squeezed. “You must really miss her.”

“I don’t.” Which was the truth.

Surprise flashed across Carly’s face.

Before she could say anymore, I asked, “Are you ready for ski season?”

Her face brightened. “Yes. Are you gonna let me teach you this year?”

I shook my head. “I’ve spent enough time in the hospital lately.”

Her laughter was a bit too loud.

“Hold on.” Rivera looked at me. “You don’t know how to ski?”

“Oh, I know how. I just suck at it. Broke my right arm twice down at Heavenly in Tahoe. I haven’t touched skis since they had to screw my shoulder back together.”

“You know…” With her hand still on my shoulder, Carly leaned so close that I felt her warm breath on my neck. “I could have you riding the mountain in a week.”

Rivera’s jaw about hit the table.

“I appreciate the offer.” I twisted away from her hand. “But I seriously have to pass.”

This was nothing new. Carly was an artist, a master of flirting. I’d once watched her tuck a hundred-dollar tip into her cleavage following a similar move on a guy in a power suit. I certainly wasn’t special.

“My loss then.” She winked and straightened. “You boys ready for your checks?”

“Just one tonight, please,” I said before anyone else could answer.

The other guys started to argue, but Carly’s attention was still on me.

“Just one,” I said again.

“Aren’t you sweet?” She touched my shoulder one more time. “Be right back.”

All eyes except mine were glued to her ass as she walked away.

“I’d let her ride my mountain,” Rivera said, his attention still lost somewhere behind me.

I pulled out my wallet and my phone. “You’re such a pig.”

“I know.”

Jones shook his head in disbelief. “Sarge, how are you not all over that?”

“The only reason those tits are squished in my direction is because she knows I’m probably the one leaving the tip.”

“I don’t know.” Baker sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’ve been in here plenty, and she’s never offered to teach me how to ski.”

Rivera leaned back and crossed his arms. “That’s because you’re an ugly son of a bitch, Baker.”

Baker pushed Rivera off his chair.

My phone’s screen lit up. There was an AirDrop notification window with the message: Carly’s iPhone would like to share a note.

I looked back to see her smile from behind the cash register.

I tapped “Accept” on my screen.

A yellow note popped open. In case you change your mind. 775-555-0128

Rocked by surprise, I sucked spit down my windpipe and erupted in a violet coughing fit.

Jones thumped me on the back. “You all right, Sarge?”

I looked back toward Carly again. She was hiding a giggle behind her hand. I cleared my throat and picked up my melted-ice water. “I’m fine,” I croaked.

“First day breathing?” Baker teased.

I cleared my throat and looked at the phone again. How the hell had she sent that? And why?

I quickly slipped my phone back into my pocket when Carly returned with the check. “Here you go.” Her fingers brushed mine as she placed it directly in my hand. “Call me” was written in swirly purple letters, with a heart drawn beside it. The check’s total was half of what should’ve been.

As she picked up the stacked food baskets, she caught my eye. “Hope to see you guys again real soon.”

My heart thumped in my chest.

When she was gone, I pulled cash from my wallet and counted out several twenties to cover the bill and a generous tip.

“Thanks, Sarge,” Baker said.

“Thanks for handling shit while I’ve been gone.” I put the check face down, with the money on top of it.

“How much of a discount did she give?” Before I could stop him, Rivera snatched up the check. His eyes doubled. “Call me? Ooo.”

I lowered my head.

“Did she leave her number?” Baker asked, leaning toward Rivera.

Rivera checked the back of the slip. “No. Which means he must already have it. You holding out on us, Sarge?”

“I’m not calling her,” I grumbled, getting up from the table.

“Why the hell not?” Jones asked as the rest of them stood as well.

“She’s half my age.”

Baker frowned. “Ten years, tops.”

I started toward the door. “And she’s not my type.”

“How do you know?” Rivera asked behind me. “You don’t even remember your type.”

I froze.

In the reflection of the windows, I saw Baker backhand him across the chest with a warning glare.

Rivera put up his hands. “I’m sorry, Sarge. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

I ignored them and walked outside. The temperature had dropped ten degrees. I zipped up my coat as I looked around for my truck. “Shit.”

“What’s the matter?” Baker asked, stopping beside me.

“I didn’t drive.” With a heavy sigh, I pulled out my phone. “Hopefully Ransom Nyx has gone back to Reno for the night.”

“Come on, Sarge.” Jones jerked his head toward his minivan. “I’ll drop you on my way home.”

“Home?” Rivera looked at his watch. “It’s early. Who’s up for Marson’s?”

I shuddered at the memory of my last hangover courtesy of Marson’s, a smokey dive bar on the edge of the Boro.

“You remember we have to work tomorrow, right?” Baker called across the lot.

“Tomorrow night,” Rivera corrected.

“I’d like to stay married, so I’m out,” Jones said.

I pointed at Jones. “And he’s my ride.”

“Pussies.” With a laugh, Rivera held up both middle fingers, walking backward across the lot.

Baker opened his truck door. “Don’t get punched in the face this time.”

Rivera laughed. “I’ll try. Hey, Sarge, maybe you and Carly can join me when her shift ends.”

I ignored him. “Goodnight, Rivera.”

“See you jokers tomorrow.” Baker got into his truck.

Jones and I walked toward his sedan. “Fucking Rivera,” he said, shaking his head.

“You think he’s all right?” I asked.

Jones laughed. “No.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and stopped walking when I saw the screen.

Jones stopped too. “You OK?”

“Nyx is calling.” I stared at her name on my screen.

After a few seconds, he asked, “You gonna answer it?”

With a gulp, I shook my head. “I’ll call her later.”

I walked to the car, but Jones didn’t move. His awkward stance, one more glaring reminder that something was very wrong with me. But I couldn’t acknowledge it. Not yet. Not here in the parking lot of the taco joint.

My hand was on the car-door handle. “You coming?”

Jones nodded and pressed the car’s unlock button on his key fob.

My phone buzzed again. This time, it was a text message.

I have something of yours.

A knot rose in my throat.

Then a photo of Karma lit up the screen.

Chapter 4

“You want me to handle this?”

The question jarred me in the passenger’s seat. “What?”

Jones asked again, “Do you want me to deal with Nyx for you? I wouldn’t mind saying hello.”

“No, I’ve got it under control.” I tried to sound confident, but it was clear from his grimace, Jones wasn’t buying it. I tried harder. “And you don’t have to wait. Karma and I can walk home.” It was only quarter of a mile.

“You sure?”

No.

“Positive.” I shook his hand. “I appreciate the lift, Jonesy.”

“Anytime, Sarge. Looking forward to having you back on shift soon.”

“Me too, man. Be safe driving home.” I opened the door.

“I will. See you tomorrow.”

I waved as he backed out of Nyx’s driveway. Her Jeep was parked next to the green sedan I’d followed into the neighborhood. All the lights were on inside the house. Ducking my head against the wind, I stuffed my hands into my coat pockets as I walked up the short front stoop to the door.

Music played somewhere inside.

I pressed the doorbell and heard a familiar bark. My stomach clenched as footfalls approached. The door flew open. Nyx’s new roommate, Bess Lincoln, beamed when she saw me. “Hey, Tyler.”

Bess was another person caught up in the Nyx-memory fog. Like with Ransom, I knew I should know her, but I couldn’t remember exactly how or why. She was a relative newbie to Sapphire Lake, and her only interaction with the sheriff’s office had been with Nyx. Bess’s name had only made the footnotes in the accident report. Nyx had stopped her for speeding and was returning to her patrol car when another driver lost control of their vehicle. Nyx had been injured, and Bess had gotten off with a warning.

“Hi, Bess.”

She was a petite and perky brunette, wearing a gray tee with “Loser” printed on the front. Over it, she wore an open, long patchwork blue cardigan. Light-brown freckles dotted her nose, and she had a diamond stud in her left nostril that must’ve been fresh, judging by the red ring around it.

Karma wiggled between Bess’s legs and the doorframe. I knelt down, grabbing his collar. “You little magician. How the hell did you get out of the yard?” He licked my face.

“His paws were caked with dirt.” The deeper female voice made me flinch. I looked up at saw Nyx standing behind Bess. “I imagine you’ll find an escape tunnel somewhere.”

With a sigh, I stood. “Thanks for finding him.”

“He came to us,” Nyx said.

God, she was sexy.

Her long, jet-black hair was damp from the shower and laying in gentle waves over one shoulder. The side of her head was shaved, with fresh pink scars shining through the undercut. She wore loose gray lounge pants with a matching top that didn’t quite meet her waistband. Her curves, and the flash of smooth tan skin, drove my thoughts to dangerous places.

My brain may have forgotten her, but my body sure hadn’t.

I pulled my jacket tight around me, hoping to conceal the storm suddenly raging inside my jeans.

“Would you like to come inside?” Nyx stepped back, pulling Bess out of the doorway by the back of her sweater.

The living room was piled with moving boxes.

“I’d better not. Looks like you’re busy.”

“We’re done for the night,” Bess said. “You should totally come in.”

Karma took the invitation and trotted back inside.

“Karma, heir,” I said, clicking my tongue against my back teeth.

He stared at me before flopping onto the living-room hardwood with a heavy whomp.

Nyx smiled. “I’d like to suggest obedience school, but I think you’re out of luck.”

Of course she would know Karma had flunked out of K-9 training. The memory loss hadn’t happened to both of us.

If half of what my mother had told me was true, my relationship with Nyx had been long and close. It had been hot and complicated too, if the scratches down my back were any indication. I couldn’t remember how I got them, which only made sense if they were left by Nyx.

My eyes fell to the bare strip of her midsection again, and for a split second, I swear I felt the sweet pressure of my lips against that same skin.

With a shudder, I tore my eyes back up to meet hers.

One corner of her mouth tilted up, and she widened the door. “Essex, come in the damn house.”

Reluctantly, I walked in. Every nerve ending inside me tingled like I’d stepped into a forcefield.

Nyx closed the door behind me.

Mid-panic attack, an octopus caught my eye.

I blinked a couple of times, letting my head fall to the side under the weight of the confusion suddenly inside it. “What is that?”

Behind me, Nyx groaned.

“See?” Bess walked toward the…tree? The statue? I wasn’t sure. She gripped the pole the metal octopus was sitting on and turned to face me—and Nyx, who suddenly stood so close I could smell a hint of fresh, sweet soap. “I told you it would be a statement piece,” Bess said to her.

Nyx crossed her arms. “He didn’t make a statement. He asked a question, just like I asked when I saw it. Just like everyone will ask. It’s ridiculous.”

Bess floated her hand toward the room. “It gives the room character.”

“Yes, cartoon character.” Nyx flung her hand toward whatever it was. “A smiling octopus will now greet our friends.”

“Good thing you don’t have any friends.” Bess stuck out her tongue, and Nyx and I both laughed.

Nyx shook her head. “I’m taking it to the scrap yard when you’re at work.”

Bess put a hand on her hip. “Then why did you tell me to buy it?”

“Don’t even play that,” Nyx warned.

Bess was fighting hard to keep a straight face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Neither did I.

“Mmm-hmm.” Nyx shook her head.

I shrugged. “I still don’t know what the hell it is.”

Bess reached a hand toward me. “May I take your coat?”

“It’s a coatrack?” I asked, handing it to her.

She hung my coat on one of the octopus’s tentacles. “Ta-da!”

I laughed, Nyx sighed, and Bess nodded proudly. “Isn’t it fabulous?”

“No,” Nyx answered as I tried to make up my mind.

Bess pointed at her. “We’ve talked about that word.”

“What word?” I asked, confused.

Nyx pulled her phone from her back pocket. She swiped the screen, tapped it a few times, and took a dangerously close step toward me. “Look.” In a new chat window, she typed the word “No” with her thumbs.

It autocorrected to “Yes.”

I bit down on the insides of my lips to stop a laugh. “She changed your no’s to yes’s?”

Nyx glared. “Yes.”

“Or do you mean noooo?” Bess asked.

I laughed as Nyx scrolled through her messages. She showed me the phone again.

It was a chat with “Favorite Roommate Ever.” I covered my mouth with my hand.

Favorite Roommate Ever: Can I buy this for the new house?

A picture of the coatrack followed.

Nyx replied: Yes.

Nyx: I mean, yes.

Nyx: YES

Favorite Roommate Ever: Great! I’m so glad you’re so excited about it!

Nyx: Hell yes, Bess.

Favorite Roommate Ever: No need for profanity. Checking out now.

Nyx: Bess, what the hell did you do to my phone???

Favorite Roommate Ever: Sorry, losing signal! See you at home!

“She’s lucky I haven’t shot her yet,” Nyx said.

Bess waved her off. “Don’t listen to her, Tyler. She secretly loves having me here.”

The forced straight line of Nyx’s mouth told me she agreed. It was the same look all cops give suspects who are both in trouble and entertaining as hell.

Bess patted my jacket. “Now that this is hung up where it belongs, perhaps the two of you should have a little chat. I’m gonna go work on my room.” She rocked back and forth on her socked feet. “It’s good to see you, Tyler.”

I waved. “You too,” I said, which triggered a different emotion: gratitude, for the short reprieve in the tension.

“You want a beer or something?” Nyx asked. “I’ve got some IPA in the fridge.”

My favorite.

“No, thanks.”

“Had enough for Sunday Funday?”

“Something like that.”

“Sin City?”

“How’d you know?”

“It’s your favorite place.” She crossed her arms. “And Ransom told me. Bet you weren’t expecting him to pull up in your driveway.” She gestured toward the charcoal-gray sofa.

I sat down. “It was quite a shock.”

She sat on the matching recliner. “I bet. The driving gig is keeping him out of trouble and out of my hair, so I’m glad he’s doing it.”

“He said you two are starting a PI firm.”

Nyx rolled her eyes. “We might if I don’t kill him first. This may be the worst idea I’ve ever had.”

“How come?”

She stared at me a second, and I recognized the mild shock in her eyes. This was information I should’ve known but didn’t. With a blink, she recovered quicker that I did. “Ransom has always been a pain in my ass, but he’s getting desperate for income since he quit his job. It’s making him sloppy. He printed these god-awful flyers—”

“He showed me.” I curled one hand around my left eye like a spyglass.

Her laugh was followed by a groan. “Marketing is not in his skillset.”

“He did say you were the brains of the operation.”

“And he’s the muscle,” she added, closing her eyes. “I’ve heard it a thousand times today alone.”

“It’s the perfect job change for you though,” I said.

Intrigued, her brow lifted.

I gestured toward her. “With your background, police and military, you’ve got enough skills for the both of you.”

Disappointment flooded her pretty face. She covered it with a polite smile. “Yeah. Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

What the hell did I say?

She shifted on her seat, tucking one foot beneath her. “How are the ribs these days?”

“Better. I go back to the office tomorrow.”

“Baker said you took some time off.”

“Yeah. I needed to heal and get my head right.”

“How’s that working out?” It was clear she wasn’t asking about the healing part.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t remember you at all, Nyx.”

Her expression was frozen.

“I know I should. Everyone has told me how tight we were…but I’ve got nothing.”

She was still emotionless.

“It’s maddening.” That was officially more honest than I’d been with anyone else.

“I know,” she said quietly, looking up at the popcorn ceiling.

“You do?”

When she met my eyes again, hers glistened.

I looked away.

In the past few weeks, I hadn’t stopped once to consider how this memory-loss shit might be affecting her. By all accounts, we were (at the very least) inseparable friends, and likely a whole lot more. Then, in one day, her mother was shot, her brother and I were poisoned, and she was wiped from my memory completely.

The tears she refused to let fall betrayed her stoic countenance. And I didn’t have to remember her to see it.

“I—I’m sorry.” The words felt like gravel in my throat.

She shook her head. “Don’t be. What happened wasn’t your choice.”

“What did happen?”

“You were poisoned.”

“So was Ransom, and he’s fine.”

She froze again. I knew that particular poker face well. Cops wore it like armor when they knew something they weren’t at liberty to disclose.

“Please tell me.” I stopped short of flat-out begging.

Nyx bent forward, balancing her elbows on her knees, and cradled her head in her hands.

I waited.

Finally, she straightened, dragging her hands down her face. “Tyler, all I can tell you is you’re not crazy. Something happened on that mountain that I can’t explain—”

“That you won’t explain.”

Her eyes didn’t waver. “Yes.”

At least she didn’t deny it.

My jaw clenched. In danger of tears myself, I cleared my throat and stood. I clicked my tongue again, making a beeline for the exit. “Karma.”

The dog jumped up at his name.

Blinking hard a few times, Nyx joined me at the door.

“Thanks for keeping him safe.” My eyes fell to the dog to avoid her face.

She was hugging herself. “Of course. Want a lift home?”

“Nah. It’s a short walk. We could both use the exercise.” I opened the door and hurried through it.

“Tyler?”

I stopped but couldn’t look at her again.

“You trusted me once.” Her voice hitched. “Trust me now.”

I looked at the ground. “Goodbye, Nyx.”

“Goodbye.”

ALSO: ➜ Don’t miss Bess’s Top 5 Harmless Pranks for April Fool’s Day, including how to change someone’s autocorrect on their phone! 

Chapter 5

An expensive, silver sedan was parked outside the police department the next morning. I admired its shiny chrome and sleek design as I waited for the slow-as-Christmas gate to slide open. The car’s specialty license plate read “CUINCRT.”

Lawyer. Figures.

I drove into the employee lot and backed into my parking space on the row closest to the building, a perk of being a sergeant. At the side door, I swiped my ID. The lock buzzed and clicked as the powerful magnet released. On the other side of the heavy door, I paused to glance at a familiar face.

My dad’s.

He was one of nine officers to ever make Wall of Heroes in Sapphire Lake. All of them were killed in the line of duty. And all of them greeted us each day when we showed up to protect and serve. Ritually, I stopped there whenever I came into work.

We’d never had the chance to meet; he was killed before I was born. But I felt oddly close to him now—since I’d almost joined him on the wall. With a shudder, I continued down the long, white-concrete hallway, a labyrinth of corridors and offices.

My first stop was my mailbox. It hadn’t been more than a week since I’d last checked it, but papers jutted out. There were seven subpoenas, the monthly department newsletter no one ever read, and a small white envelope, hand addressed, no stamp. A single name was imprinted in metallic ink on the back: Trammel.

The new district attorney.

I carefully slid my finger under its flap, ripping it open. I checked its contents for anything potentially hazardous before removing the card inside. Not that I thought Karina Trammel was dangerous, but a cop can never be too careful.

The notecard had “Thank you” printed in shimmering silver script on the front.

Dear Sergeant Essex,

Thank you so much for your service to our city. I know you’ve been through quite an ordeal, and I wanted to extend my deepest sympathies. You’re in my personal prayers as you navigate your way to a new normal. This city needs good cops like you.

I need good cops like you.

It’s my desire that you and I can work together to help reset the public image of both our departments. Above all else, as the new D.A. of Sapphire Lake, I hope to restore integrity to this office and gain your trust.

I look forward to our many future endeavors together,

Karina Trammel

District Attorney

Sapphire Lake, Nevada

Damn.

I’d never gotten a personal note from Harrison Birch, or anyone else from the D.A.’s office.

Ever.

Still, I’d been in this game long enough to know this was a political move. Karina was smart, and a good attorney because of it.

As assistant D.A., she’d caused quite the stir when she announced her run against Harrison Birch, only to be appointed to his position after he resigned in a flurry of scandal. Regardless, the election was in a couple of weeks, and if she wanted to keep her new job, she needed to start making friends. Fast.

“Essex?” a male voice asked me. I turned and saw the patrol lieutenant, Mark Griffin, walking toward me. “You’re back.”

I gave a mocking salute. “Delta One, reporting for paper pushing.”

Mark laughed as he shook my hand. “I’d like to tell you their loss is our gain, but I know from experience, you’re going to be bored to tears.”

“I have no doubt, sir.”

“How are the ribs?”

“Getting there. Any idea what I’m doing this week?”

“Working on a new level of bullshit, if you asked me.” He jerked his head toward the command hallway. “Chief personally requested you.”

“He called me yesterday too. Said some interesting calls have been coming in, and I’ve heard talk. What do you know?”

“You heard about the dreams?”

“Very little.”

“Prepare for a good laugh. When I talked to the chief briefly about it, he said for me to send all the reports to him, which I guess is where you come in, Paper Boy.”

In other words, the chief didn’t want to waste valuable police officers on dreams. And at the moment, I was not valuable.

“What does he want me to do?”

“No idea. We were interrupted when the new D.A. came in”

I held up my notecard. “I got this.”

“Most of us did. She brought them by this morning, stuffed our boxes before she went in with the chief.”

“Is she here rubbing elbows or about something specific?”

“Not sure, but she might be gearing up to crucify Nyx.”

My stomach clenched.

“For what?”

He laughed. “Telling the truth, probably.” We walked toward the break room. “Rumor is, the D.A. wants make an example of her. That yes, you tell the truth, but you don’t let the media run an investigation.”

“But the media was running the investigation.”

“I agree.” He lowered his voice. “Still, Nyx kicked a beehive, and Trammel wants to make it clear that no interference in an investigation, even a noble one, will be tolerated under her leadership.”

“You think she’ll charge Nyx with obstruction?”

He lifted both shoulders. “Have you talked to her?”

If I only had a dollar every time someone asked that question…

“Not really. She found my dog yesterday.”

“Your dog?”

“Yeah. Nyx moved in down the street.”

Mark’s head snapped back. “No shit?”

“No shit.”

“That’s some luck, right there.”

“Yeah, not the kind I’m about to take to Vegas.” I picked up a paper coffee cup. “The coffee any good this morning?”

“I wouldn’t gamble on that either.”

I poured my cup full, sipped it, and almost threw up. I dumped the whole thing in the trash.

Mark slapped me on the back. “I’ve got to get to work. I’ll check in with you later. Maybe once Chief is finished with you, it’ll be my turn to inflict some torture.”

“Ha. Maybe.”

Outside the break room, Mark went one way, and I went the other, toward the command-staff wing. Chief’s office was past HR, the rest of the higher-ups, and the admin pool. His door was closed.

Valerie Leon, assistant to just about everyone at the department, was at the copier. She looked up when I entered. Her red lipstick matched her red cat-eye glasses. “Hi, Sergeant Essex. You’re early.”

“Chief told me to come find him when I got here. Is he busy?”

“He’s in with the new D.A. He told me to get you started on some reports, and he’ll be with you as soon as he wraps up.”

Reports, ugh.

“Sure thing. Where do you want me?”

“Take your pick.” She gestured toward the cubicles, where I’d be handcuffed to a desk for the foreseeable future. “And take these with you.”

She handed me an orange folder that had been balanced on top of the five-foot cubicle wall. I flipped it open and skimmed the first page. The reporting officer from Alpha shift was Marco Garcia, an old friend of mine.

The caller’s name was Elizabeth Piper, born 1978. Address in the Boro. Caller notes oddity of request, but she felt a strong need to make a police report. She dreamed of 3-5 frozen bodies under deep, dark water. The one she remembers most clearly was wearing a blue shirt. Caller assumed it was Sapphire Lake but couldn’t be sure.

Valerie was expectantly waiting for me to finish. I licked my index finger and flipped through the remaining pages. All of them were from Alpha. All of them were about dreams. All of them were about bodies.

I looked up at Valerie, unsure of what to say.

My face must have been enough because she turned up both of her palms. “I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s just Alpha’s reports from yesterday and Charlie’s log from the night before. The reports from last night haven’t come in yet.”

“All about dreams?”

“Those are. Chief asked me to pull them.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Chief wants you to figure them out.”

“Figure them out? I’m a cop, not a psychic.”

She laughed and slapped my shoulder as she walked by me. “I just work here, Sarge.”

Shaking my head, I carried the folder to the first cubicle and plopped down. The rickety rolling chair pitched sideways, and I barely caught myself on the desk before it dumped me onto the thin carpet.

I muttered a string of curse words, slamming the chair backwards, as I stalked to the next cubicle. I gave the back of that chair a good shake before I put my weight on its sturdy wheels.

I spread the folder open on the desk and flipped to page two. Ronnie Waller, born 1943, from Northern Lights Retirement Community. Caller reported a dream of frozen bodies underwater. Not sure of location.

My head was already starting to hurt.

Page three: Coralynn Harris, born 1989. Address not far from mine. Caller crying. Says she had a very lifelike dream of five bodies under the lake. She reported feeling cold in the dream, like the water was icy.

Behind the three reports was the call log from Charlie shift, the night before Alpha’s reports. There were three calls that night with similar information.

The first was simply, Caller had nightmare about frozen bodies in the lake.

The second: Caller had dream about bodies in Sapphire Lake. 

The third: Caller had a dream about bodies frozen underwater.

I looked at my watch. It was Garcia’s day off, but he’d be up by now. I called his cell. “Garcia,” he answered on the first ring.

“Hey, man. It’s Essex.”

“Hey, brother.”

“You busy?”

“Just dropped my kid off at daycare. What’s up?”

“I’m in the office this week—”

“Ha, ha.”

I rolled my eyes. “Valerie just handed me a stack of reports about bad dreams. What the fuck is going on?”

“Crazy shit, huh?”

“Yeah. Explain. Since when are we taking reports about nightmares?”

“Since three of them came in on Charlie shift the other night. The first one they thought was funny, but two other calls came in that night. Similar stories from strangers. Word got around, and we were instructed to start taking reports. I figured it would land on a detective’s desk. Why are you working it?”

“Because I’m on light duty.”

“Ohhh.” The word was full of understanding. 

I turned back to the report Garcia had taken. “Tell me about the call you got from Elizabeth Piper.”

“She goes by Liz. Totally sounded sane, kinda embarrassed for calling it in.”

“I bet.”

“She said she woke up in the middle of the night from a dream so vivid she described it like a movie playing in her head. She was underwater, looking at frozen bodies. The body closest to her wasn’t facing her, but she said it was wearing a blue shirt.”

“Could she tell anything else? Size, hair color, anything?”

“No, man. She was pretty rattled.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Has a movie come out recently about something like this?”

“Our entire shift has been researching that theory. We couldn’t come up with anything. Essex, I know it sounds nuts, but ask any of the guys who took those calls. We all said the same thing. These people weren’t crazy, and they all saw the exact same thing.”

I wanted to believe him. “You know, sometimes when I eat Mexican too close to bed, I dream some crazy shit too.”

“Ha, me too. But I really don’t think tacos were the culprit this time.”

“Thanks for your time, man.”

“Sure thing.”

“Enjoy your day off.”

“Planning on it. Let me know if you dig up anything.”

“Will do.”

I ended the call in time to hear the chief’s door squeak open. Voices carried through the room, and I hunkered lower in my seat to avoid being seen. The new D.A. would want to talk about Nyx.

“I appreciate your time this morning, Chief,” she said. There was the distinct rattle of a keychain.

“Let me know what you decide,” Chief Magnus replied.

The muffled thud of heels on the barely covered concrete floor followed. I didn’t peek over the cubicle wall until I was sure she was gone. Chief leaned over as I stretched up. His eyes were so close I could see his lashes were gray.

We both gasped, and I fell back hard in my chair. “Shit.” I was panting.

He stepped into the doorway of the cubicle, laughing. “Well, if I wasn’t already awake, I sure as hell am now.”

“Sorry, Chief.”

“Don’t be. Step into my office, Sergeant.”

I obeyed and followed him, carrying the orange folder. Once we were inside, he closed the door behind me. “Two closed-door meetings before nine? That’s some kind of record for you, isn’t it?” I asked.

Chief was quite proud of his open-door policy with his officers, and he was very vocal about his hatred of meetings.

“Not a record I’m crazy about.” He walked around behind his large mahogany desk. “Have a seat.”

I sat in a padded armchair across from him. On the wall behind his desk was a political poster with his oldest son, Quinn, smiling in front of the American flag. “Quinn is moving up in the political world, isn’t he?”

Chief glanced back at it proudly. “Rising fast. The county said I could put up the poster since he’s not running in this district.”

“Think he’ll run for President someday?”

Chief smiled. “Wouldn’t that be something?” He shrugged. “But I don’t know. For now, his eye is on the Senate seat, and maybe the Governor’s office someday.”

“Well, he’ll have my vote.”

We’d only met once, but I liked Quinn. I liked the chief’s entire family, actually. Once upon a time, Magnus had worked for my father, so we were personally closer than he was with a lot of the other officers. Seven months ago, when he accepted the job as Chief and moved back to Sapphire Lake, my parents and I had helped him and his wife move in.

“How’s the new D.A. working out?” I asked.

He sighed and straightened some papers on his desk. “She’s a bulldog. Wouldn’t want to be on her bad side.”

A small part of me considered asking if Nyx was on her bad side. But the smarter part of me kept my mouth shut. When Magnus didn’t volunteer any intel, I diverted the conversation by holding up the folder.

His eyes widened. So did his smile. He had a small gap between his lower front teeth. “Penny for your thoughts?”

I dropped the file on his desk. “I hope you’re paying me a lot more than that.”

“Not much more,” he replied with a grin.

No shit.

“It’s odd,” I said.

“It’s creepy as hell,” he corrected me.

I nodded. “Can’t argue, but what are we supposed to do about it? Last I heard, Sapphire Lake PD doesn’t have jurisdiction in dream land.”

Amusement tugged at his lips. “I thought you might find it interesting.” He was studying my face, for what, I didn’t know.

I scratched my head. “Sure, it’s interesting, but it’s also a bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone.”

“Yeah.” He leaned forward, balancing his elbows on the desk. “But if we do nothing and bodies start floating, then this”—his right index finger landed squarely in the middle of the folder—“will be the next story out of Sapphire Lake that hits the national news. None of us need that kind of press.”

He had a point.

“I need you, Tyler.”

Ooo. First name.

“Why me, Chief?”

“Would you rather scan in gun permits for Valerie?”

“No, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but if this is so important, why not give it to a detective?”

He steepled his fingertips, touching them to his nose as he thought for a long moment. A chief so carefully choosing his words could either be an excellent thing—or an awful thing. And my luck hadn’t been excellent in a while.

“You want the truth?”

“I don’t know. Do I?”

“Sergeant, you’re the only member of this department who might take these calls completely seriously.”

My head snapped back. “What makes you say that?”

He lowered his voice. “Something unexplainable happened on that cemetery mountain, son.”

I looked away.

“Not just for you, but for this whole city. Almost forty years of experience tells me we’d be really stupid to ignore the next unexplainable thing that comes our way.” He pushed the folder toward me. “And of all the cops in Sapphire Lake, I figured you’d want the truth more than anybody.”

I held his gaze for a second, then finally picked up the folder with a sigh. “I’ll do my best, Chief.”

“I know you will.”

I walked to the office door.

“Hey, Tyler, one more thing.”

With one hand on the door, I looked back.

He glanced down at the folder again. “Keep it quiet, but I want you to run those reports by Nyx.”

Chapter 6

When the door closed behind me, I leaned against it. I considered slamming my head back into it a few times but somehow restrained myself. “Fuck my life. Fuck my life. Fuck my life,” I muttered over and over until Valerie peeked her head out into the hallway.

“That good, huh?” she asked with a grin.

I groaned.

“Need anything?”

“A swift kick to the—” I stopped myself when I remembered I wasn’t talking to one of the guys. “No, I’m good. Thanks.”

She smiled. “Let me know if you do.”

“Actually, if anyone is looking for me, tell them I’ll be right back. Gonna pop across the street for some coffee. I sure as hell haven’t had enough sleep for this. You want anything?”

“I gave up coffee for New Year’s. I can’t seem to stop at one cup, and my doctor was afraid my heart might explode.”

I vaguely remembered her with a travel mug always in hand. “Some tea then? Or juice?”

“No, thanks.”

“Call me if you change your mind.”

“Thanks, Sarge.”

I put the folder under my arm and pulled out my cell phone as I walked toward the exit. I tapped the number for dispatch in my call history.

“Sapphire Lake Dispatch,” a woman answered.

“This is Delta One, I’m in the office this week, so go ahead and send all phone-call-only reports my way.”

“10-4. I have a few waiting for a call back now. Bravo is pretty slammed.”

I stopped just short of the exit door. “What are they?”

“Um…” There was a pause. “A busted mailbox and two new nightmare reports.” She lowered her voice for the last part.

I took my hand off the door and turned back toward the hallway. “OK. I’ll call in and you can put it through.”

“Which one?”

“I’ll handle them all, but I’ll take the dream calls first.”


The first dream caller was in a meeting. They would call back. The second told a similar story to the others, with a lot more detail and one interesting twist: all the bodies in her dream were pristinely intact except one. The woman’s baby started crying in the background before I could ask more questions.

I hung up the phone and massaged my throbbing temples.

“You OK, Sarge?” Valerie asked.

I looked back to see her peeking over the cubicle wall.

“Two more nightmare calls so far this morning, for a grand total of eight,” I said.

She grimaced. “Need more coffee?”

I reclined in the seat. “Never got any to begin with.” I looked at my watch. “I might have to settle for break room caffeine.”

“No.” Valerie looked horrified.

I yawned. “I need something.”

She looked at the folder and notes on the desk. “What do you think about all that?”

“I have no idea.”

“It kinda gives me the willies.”

It did me too, if I was being honest, and I wasn’t about to be that honest with someone who worked so closely with human resources.

“I haven’t been completely out of the loop, but we’re not actively searching for a bunch of missing persons, are we?” I asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

My radio went off. “Delta One, you have another phone report holding.”

My eyes squeezed closed in frustration before I straightened.

“Hang in there, Sarge,” Valerie said.

I picked up my radio. “Delta One, 10-4, I’ll call in now so you can put it through.”

I called dispatch, and they patched the caller through to my cell phone.

“Hello?” a woman answered.

“Good morning, ma’am. My name is Sergeant Tyler Essex with the Sapphire Lake Police Department. Would you like to file a police report?”

“Oh,” she said, surprised. “Hey, Tyler. It’s Carly, from Sin City.”

I suffered a bit of mental whiplash. “Hi, Carly. Is everything OK?”

She groaned. “Now I feel really stupid.”

“Don’t feel stupid. What’s wrong?” There was a long pause, and I knew what was happening on the other end of the line. “Carly, it’s OK. I’ve heard a lot of stuff this morning that made people feel stupid for calling in. What’s going on?”

“I had a really weird dream last night.”

“Go on.” I clicked my pen and scribbled her name on the sheet.

“Something in my gut told me to call, otherwise I never would. Not with something like this.”

“Did you dream about bodies in the lake?”

There was a pause. “How did you know?”

“Because you aren’t the only one.”

More silence.

“Tell me about the dream, with as much detail as you can remember.”

“I was underwater. It was really cold, like freezing, and there were a bunch of bodies tied to the bottom of the lake.”

“Tied?”

“Yeah, attached to something. I don’t know what.”

“Go on.”

“I felt super panicky. I looked around and couldn’t even find the surface because it was so dark. I was a long way down.”

“You were actually in the water with them?”

“Oh, I was one of them. My leg was tied to something. Weird, right?”

“No, I mean, yes, but the detail is great.” The rest of the reports had been so vague.”

“I’ve always been a lucid dreamer.”

“A what?”

“A lucid dreamer.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like when you’re aware you’re dreaming. Most of the time, I can control it, like interact with the dreams. This one, I was on autopilot, but I remember it clearly.”

In the margin of the report I scribbled “lucid dreaming” so I’d remember to research it more later.

“Anyway, I was a long way down. I knew I needed to get out of there, but there were others, so I started to check to see if they were alive. They weren’t.”

“You’re sure?”

“Oh yeah. Some were like bodies out of a horror movie. They were frozen, and eerily preserved, but most were missing big chunks of skin.” She made a gagging noise that I hoped was fake.

“You OK?”

“Yeah. It was just so real. And they were so gross.”

“That’s common. Water and marine life do a lot of damage. It’s a whole lot worse in warmer water.”

In most water, bodies swell with gas as they decompose, making them float to the surface. The skin that isn’t eaten by fish sloughs off at the slightest touch. Sapphire Lake was too cold for that, especially near the bottom.

“I tried to move them, but they wouldn’t budge,” she said.

“I thought you were tied to the bottom?”

“Well, I was, but then I wasn’t. Dream are weird like that, you know?”

“I guess. I rarely remember mine.” And when I did remember them, I certainly didn’t to want to. Those were the nights I’d wake up in a cold sweat, sometimes reaching for the gun locked in the nightstand. “Tell me about the bodies.”

“There were a few farther away that I didn’t get to, but I saw the ones closest to me very clearly. One was a man.”

“Was he wearing a blue shirt?”

“Yes! How’d you know?”

“Other callers reported a man in a blue shirt. Can you tell me anything specific about him? Hair color? Age?”

“His hair was dark, cut real short. I have no idea how old he was. His face was mostly gone. His eyes were creepy white, wide open and completely rolled back in his head. All of them that I could see were like that.”

I made a note about the eyes. “Hang on. If it was so dark you couldn’t find the surface of the water, how could you see the bodies?”

“I was light.”

“Excuse me?”

“Me. I was the light.”

“How is that possible?”

“It was a dream, Tyler.”

“Right.” I felt momentarily stupid. “Anything else?”

She thought for a moment. “I don’t think so. Oh, he was wearing a watch. One those fancy ones with a giant round face.”

“Got it.”

“There was another body beneath me, crumpled on the lake floor. I think it was a man, but it was hard to tell. He was tangled up in tree limbs or something.”

Once upon a time, long before the valley had been dammed up to churn out electricity, Sapphire Lake had been the Clear Creek Canyon, a deep cavern between two steep ridges of the Carson Range. Trees at the bottom was definitely a possibility.

“Beyond that guy was a woman. She was perfect. I mean, perfect. Not a blemish on her. Like, she almost looked fake.”

“Could she have been fake? Maybe a mannequin or something?”

“If it was, it was the most lifelike mannequin I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me about her.”

“She had blonde hair, almost platinum. She was about my age—”

“How old are you, Carly?”

“Twenty-eight.”

That was older than I would’ve guessed.

“I’ll need your date of birth and driver’s license number before we got off here, but let’s keep going with the woman.”

“Her complexion was really washed out. Super pale.”

Bloodless, I thought. “What was she wearing?”

“An ombre purple-and-gold sequined dress.”

“What’s an ombre?”

“Oh.” The word was caught somewhere between a whimper and a laugh, like I expected her to follow it up with, “You poor thing.” She didn’t. “Ombre is when one color fades into another. The top of the dress was purple sequins, and they blended into gold sequins at the bottom. You do know what sequins are, right?”

“Yes.” It was a good thing she couldn’t see my smirk.

“And it had spaghetti straps.”

“Spaghetti straps.” I wrote it down, but I doubted it would matter. This was still a dream, after all. “Got it. Anything else about her?”

“God-awful heels definitely not meant for swimming.”

My eyes narrowed. “Was the dress meant for swimming?”

She giggled softly on the other end of the line. “Fair point. Oh! She had on a wedding-ring set, with a giant diamond.”

This was far more detail than we’d gotten from anyone else. I wondered if that was only because Carly remembered so much more than the others, or if Chief was right—that I was taking this more seriously than the other cops taking reports.

Still, none of this made any sense.

“What about the other bodies?” I asked.

“They were too far away to make out. I’m pretty sure one of them was another woman.”

“Do you have any idea where you were?”

“Sapphire Lake.”

“How do you know?”

“I just knew that’s where I was when I was down there.”

She just knew. Definitely not the kind of concrete answer I wanted, but what did I expect from a dream?

“Was there anything identifying down there?”

“Umm… Sorry. I can’t think of anything. It was so dark.”

“It’s OK. You’ve given me a lot more than I expected.”

“I really felt dumb for calling. I hope I haven’t just wasted your time.”

“Honestly, I really hope you have, considering the alternative.”

“Ugh, yeah. I guess you’re right.” A beat of silence passed. “Tyler, do you think what I saw was real? Have they found bodies in the lake?”

“Ever? Sure, but not lately. And we’re not looking for any.”

“But you said other people were having dreams like this too.”

“Yes, but as far as we know they’re just dreams.”

“Why are they all the same?”

“I don’t know, but the important thing is, no crimes have been committed related to this, and as far as anyone in the department knows, we’re not missing any people who fit these descriptions.”

“So what does this mean?”

I had no idea how to answer that, so I sidestepped it with some politics of my own. “It simply means that this department cares about you. We’ll do all we can, even listen to dreams, if it makes you feel safer.”

“That does make me feel a little better.”

“Good. Don’t worry, Carly. If I find out anything of value, I promise I’ll let you know.”

“You’re such a good guy, Tyler.”

“I have my moments.” I got her birthdate and driver’s license number. “Can I do anything else for you before we hang up?”

“Was that your number that called me?”

“No, that was the station.”

“How will I get in touch if it happens again?”

“Call that number. I have yours if I have any more questions.”

“You sure you don’t want me to call you directly?”

This was a trap. I could hear her smile on the other end of the call.

Still, it was flattering, so I smiled back. “I’m sure. Bye, Carly.”

“Bye.”

I hung up, laying my phone onto the desk with a thud.

My radio went off again. “Delta One, two more calls waiting for you.”

“What a nightmare,” I muttered, pun intended.

“Here,” a woman said behind me. I turned as Valerie handed me a to-go cup from the cafe across the street. “You’re gonna need all the energy you can get.”

“Why?”

She handed me a second orange file folder, twice as thick as the first.

Dread squeezed my chest. “What is this?”

“The call logs and reports from Charlie shift last night.”

Chapter 7

Even though her Jeep was in the driveway, I bypassed Nyx’s place on my way home. Regardless of the chief’s request, my head hurt enough without adding her special blend of frustration to my day.

Dad’s red pickup was parked in front of my house, and he was in the driver’s seat. Karma was riding shotgun. With a groan, I shifted into park, grabbed my folders and takeout dinner, and got out.

My father opened his door and then yelped in pain as Karma bounded across his thighs and launched from his lap.

I put my stuff on the hood of my SUV before grabbing Karma’s collar. “Where the hell have you been this time?”

His tail wagged so hard his body swayed side to side.

“Found him trotting down your street,” Dad said, closing his door when he got out. “Caught up with him halfway to the main road.”

“Thanks for bringing him home. What are you doing out this way?” I asked before realizing he had a covered plate in one hand.

“Your mom sent meatloaf. It’s leftovers from last night, but it’s pretty good.” He nodded toward the house. “The place looks good. New trim?”

“Painted trim. Couldn’t stand to look at the red anymore after what he did to the house.” I glared at my dog again.

“You didn’t know what you were signing up for, did you?” He was talking about my rescuing Karma.

“No, but at least life’s never boring. I don’t know what I’m going to do though. There are too many cars on the street for him to keep getting out.”

“Have you thought about a doggy daycare?”

“I’m afraid he’ll escape wherever he’s at. I should’ve named him Houdini.”

“What other options are there?”

“I don’t know. Maybe take him to the office with me until I figure it out.”

“They won’t care?”

“Nah. He’s like the office’s emotional-support dog.”

“Always good for a laugh or a story,” Dad said.

“Definitely.” I grabbed my stuff off the hood. “Want to see renovation job inside?” Mom had been over, but Dad hadn’t visited since the whole place was still covered in red. He’d offered to help with the project, but after all that had gone down, I’d needed a project to work on alone.

Something he understood.

“Sure.”

“Karma, heir.” He was sniffing the bag from Hamburger Rick’s. Dad and the dog followed me to the front door.

I punched in my front door’s code: zero-five-two-nine

“Wow,” Dad said after I opened the door. We walked inside, and when I looked back, his eyes were wide, taking it all in. “This looks great. Who did the work?”

“Mark Bassett did the floors, I did the painting, and I ordered most of the furniture off the internet.”

“You did the painting?”

“When my ribs were well enough. It sucked, but it kept me busy.”

“You did a good job.”

“Thanks.” I carried my stuff to the kitchen island.

“You want to come over and paint ours?”

“Not a chance. You want a beer?”

“Nah, can’t stay too long.” He put the dinner plate next to my bag of food.

I’d never tell Mom, but I’d probably opt for the burger over the meatloaf. In the past few weeks, I’d had more home-cooked meals than any single man should.

“Bringing work home?” Dad tapped the thick folders on the island.

“Don’t have anything else to do.” I walked to the laundry room to check Karma’s food and water bowls.

“You need a hobby, son. Something outside the department.”

“Why? You never had one.” I dunked Karma’s empty bowl into the bag of kibble, and on cue, he came running.

“I wish I had,” Dad said when I walked back into the kitchen. “Maybe I should’ve taken my son fishing or something.”

I grinned. “You wanna go fishing now?”

“Too cold.” Dad had never been much of an outdoorsman. Now, in his retirement, he preferred golf and weekend trips to Vegas. “But I do worry about you.”

I didn’t like the way he was avoiding eye contact. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

I glared.

His shoulders dropped. “Your mother sent me.”

“With the food, I know.” I retrieved my favorite Raider’s cup from the cabinet.

“Not just that. She’s worried about you. We both are. You’ve been through a lot, son. Your whole team has.”

My hand froze as I reached for the refrigerator-door handle. Then I stopped, turned toward my dad, and forced a smile. Contrary to what it might seem, I was truly grateful my parents cared. Some cops didn’t have the kind of support I was born with. “Thanks, Dad.”

“I’m always here if you ever need to talk about what happened.”

“I know. I talked to the chaplain. I think we all did, but I appreciate you checking on me.”

“All right, enough of the mushy shit.” He knocked his knuckles against the countertop. Then he went to look out the back door. “The dog pen looks good. How’s he getting out?”

“No clue. Osmosis maybe.” I retrieved my tea pitcher from the fridge.

Dad laughed. “You ready if the snow hits next week? Want me to put those chairs by the fire pit in your garage while I’m here?”

“Nah, I’ll take care of them this weekend.”

“Should you be lifting?”

I filled my cup with tea so cold it didn’t need ice to dilute it. “I’ll be fine.” I held up the pitcher. “Want some?”

“Tea this late? No wonder you don’t sleep at night.”

“All right, Mom.

He grinned and walked back to the bar. “How was your first day back?”

“Interesting.” I put the pitcher away and sat on a stool at the island.

“Why interesting?”

With my boot, I scooted the seat beside me toward him “Did you ever have anyone report bad dreams when you were chief?”

His eyes darted away again. “Bad dreams are part of the job, Tyler. It’s nothing to be ashamed—”

“Not talking about me, Dad.”

He sat down. “But you really can talk to me—”

I held up both hands to stop him. “Let me rephrase. Have you ever heard of calls coming into the station from citizens who are reporting bad dreams?”

His head snapped back. “What?”

My shoulders fell. “That’s what I thought.” I slid the folders toward him, and he lifted an eyebrow when I pulled out a burger. I unwrapped it. “Don’t tell Mom.”

With a laugh and a head shake, he opened the top folder. I prepared my meal as he put on his glasses and read. As I was squeezing the last bit of a ketchup from a packet, he looked up. “Is this a joke?”

“Wish it was.”

He flipped through the pages. “How many reports are there?”

“Sixteen in three days.”

“Sixteen?” Dad’s question was so loud, Karma trotted in from the laundry room to see what the fuss was about.

“Trust me, I’m just as surprised as you.”

Dad read more. Then he looked up with a deep crease in the center of his forehead. “Are you sure this isn’t just a little back-to-work hazing? When I returned after back surgery in ninety-eight, the boys put a crash-test dummy behind my desk.”

I shook my head and opened the green folder. “I took all these calls myself today.”

Six calls had come in that day. The last caller, Jane Binx, kept me on the phone so long that I missed my team’s shift briefing. But none of them had been as informative as Carly.

I pulled her report from the stack and laid it on top. “This caller, Carly Austin—”

“The girl from the taco place?”

“How do you know her?”

His lips pressed into a tight line. “How do I not know her?”

I rolled my eyes. “Geez, Dad.” I pushed her call report toward him. “She gave the most detail. Almost described what she saw like a movie reel. You ever heard of lucid dreaming?”

“No. It sounds like something that happens on LSD.”

It kind of did.

When he finished reading, he folded his arms on the countertop and blew out a slow breath, staring at the papers in front of him. “I never saw anything like this.” He slid his gaze toward me. “What do you make of it?”

I took a long drink of my tea. “I honestly don’t know. Every ounce of my experience tells me it’s bullshit, but I’m pretty sure none of these callers know each other. And even if they did, why bother?”

“It is close to Halloween. The crazies always come out this time of year.”

“This doesn’t feel like a Halloween prank to me.”

Dad’s eyes returned to the reports, and I could tell from his silence that he didn’t think this was a prank either. “There have always been rumors about bodies in Lake Tahoe, but I’ve never heard those rumors here. But, hell, maybe it’s possible.”

Even though Sapphire Lake was tiny by comparison to the giant blue lake across the mountains, it was said to have some of the deepest caves in the world. Caves that had only been discovered after the valley began to fill with water. Engineers had been puzzled as the ice-cold water seemingly disappeared. Now some spots in the lake had crannies that befuddles even some the best fish finders.

“What does Magnus think?” Dad asked.

“It’s hard to tell. He’s taking it seriously enough that he assigned me exclusively to work on it, but he doesn’t know what to make of it either.”

“What does he want you to do?”

“Take reports, figure it out…” I swallowed. “And talk to Nyx.”

Dad’s head snapped back. “That’s a twist.”

“Yeah.”

He stared at the reports again. “I can’t even believe the department is taking calls about dreams, much less assigning someone to investigate them. Magnus has to know something.”

“I thought the same thing.”

“And that something must have to do with Nyx.”

“I know.”

He shifted uncomfortably on his stool. “I know you don’t want to talk about her, but I’ll say it again, unexplainable stuff seems to follow the Nyx family. Magnus obviously knows it too.”

He was right, I didn’t want to talk about her, but it was becoming clearer and clearer that I wouldn’t be able to avoid the subject forever.

“What do you know about her family?” I asked.

He looked at me seriously over the top rim of his glasses. “You sure you want to do this? I don’t want you storming out of another kitchen.”

“I didn’t storm out yesterday, and yes, I need to know.”

“OK.” He swiveled toward me. “Do you remember anything about what happened with her parents before they went to prison?”

Suddenly no longer hungry, I pushed my hamburger away. “I’ve read the files. What can you tell me?”

Dad was deputy chief under my biological father when Elias and Malena Nyx set fire to their home-slash-psychic-den-of-deception. A Sapphire Lake detective had been inside when the whole place went up in flames.

“I was off that night, but almost everyone on night shift showed up at their place in the Boro. Detective Owen Ryan had been watching Elias and Malena for a while. The department had received an anonymous tip that they were drugging customers to allow them to contact the other side.” Dad added an eye roll to that last part.

“Drugging them with hypnox,” I clarified.

“Yes.” He leaned toward me. “Did you see any spirits when you were drugged?” Given Dad’s snark, I probably wouldn’t have owned up to it even if I had.

“I don’t remember anything, or haven’t you heard?” I asked, adding some snark of my own.

Dad jokingly made a fist. “Boy, you wanna take this outside?”

I grinned. “Not a chance.”

“Anyway, after enough confirmation from other patrons, Ryan wanted to raid the place, but your dad told him to stand down.”

“Why?”

“James knew how dangerous hypnox was. He wanted to go in quietly and carefully, but Ryan didn’t listen.”

“Didn’t listen?” I couldn’t imagine anyone in our department deliberately disobeying an order from our chief, and Magnus was still a newbie, practically an outsider.

James Essex had been one of the most respected chiefs in Sapphire Lake’s history. The most formidable too, if half the stories I’d heard in my lifetime were true. From everything I knew about my father, I couldn’t believe any officer, much less a new detective, would have the balls to defy him.

“Why?” I asked.

My stepdad shrugged. “I don’t know, but Detective Ryan paid for it with his life.” His whole countenance fell. “I got the call just after midnight. Your dad was on his way there, along with the rest of the shift, when Ryan failed to check in with his partner.”

“With Magnus?”

“Yeah. Just when backup was about to go in, the whole front room of the house blew up. When they found the body, it was charred and mutilated…” Dad pointed toward the door. “Just like what happened at the Drexler, and just like what happened to your boy up on that mountain.”

Nausea rippled through me.

His pointing finger tapped hard on my shoulder. “And I’ll bet Saphera Nyx knows exactly what happened to all of them.”

A chill prickled the back of my neck.

“Too bad she’s not gonna tell me.”

“Have you asked?”

“Yep.”

His shoulders sank with disappointment.

I knew the feeling.

“Rrowf!”

Karma’s bark made us both jump.

“Rrowf! Rrowf!”

We turned, and Karma was standing in the doorway to the laundry room, staring just past us. I looked toward the living room and the hallway. Nothing was there.

A low growl rumbled in his throat.

“Karma!” I yelled.

He ignored me. “Rrowf! Rrowf! Rrrrowf!”

Karma darted across the living room like he was chasing a squirrel. He jumped toward the front window, and I leapt off my stool so fast it toppled over.

“Karma, halt!

Miraculously, he didn’t dive through the glass. His nails scraped across the windowsill as his hind legs bounced with excitement. “Rrowf! Rrowf! Grrrrrowf!”

“What’s wrong with that knucklehead?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know.” I picked up my stool and walked to the window. “Karma!”

It was like he didn’t even hear me.

I looked outside and saw nothing out of place. No squirrels. No raccoons. No monster trucks.

Grabbing Karma by the collar, I peeled him away from the glass and knelt in front of him. He whined, pulling away from me.

“What is it, boy?”

He whined again and slurped my nose.

“We’re OK.” I scratched his neck, nuzzling his face until he settled down. His tail wagged. “Good boy.”

When I released Karma and stood, he bolted back to the window.

“What was it?” Dad asked.

“I’m not sure. It’s like he saw a ghost.” Scratching my head, I stared at the spot near the hall where he’d been barking at seemingly nothing.

A ghost.

“Could’ve been that mythical wild animal,” Dad said with a grin. “Maybe you should open the door and see if he chases it back to Nyx.”

“Not funny.” I returned to my seat.

“It’s only not funny if you fear it might be true.”

With a heavy sigh, I rubbed my temples and nodded. “Maybe I do.”

⬇ Also, on the blog ⬇

Chapter 8

The next morning, Karma was panting over my shoulder when I pulled into the lot at the department. He was harnessed in the back seat of my SUV, with his head stuck through the open dividing window between us. Drool was seeped into my collar.

Baker was in his patrol car parked next to my space. Odd, since he was now off duty. When I slid the transmission into park beside him, I realized he was asleep.

I turned on my siren, jolting him upright in his seat. Laughing, I shut it off, and he held up his middle finger. Baker got out of his car, and Karma barked, fighting against his harness to get to the side window to say hello.

As I moved to turn the key and kill the engine, my phone rang. “Sgt. Sievers (Washoe)” flashed on my SUV’s display.

Weird.

I motioned for Baker to wait and tapped the answer button on my display screen. “This is Essex.”

“Essex, hey, it’s Tim Sievers.”

“Hi, Tim. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I was actually calling to see if I can still do something for you, but first, how are you feeling? I wanted to give you some time after your ordeal to recover before calling.”

“Thanks, I’m better. Back in the office on light duty this week.” Karma stuck his head back through the window and whined loudly to get out.

“That’s great news. What’s the noise?”

“My dog. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t keep you. I was just wondering if you still want to come work with us.”

My jaw went slack. “What?”

“I told you we’d have an opening soon. The position is yours if you want it.”

My brain was scrambling. “Which position is that?” I had no clue what he was talking about.

“The third-shift deputy position.”

“Uhh…”

“You called me about six weeks ago inquiring about a job. Don’t you remember?”

Fuck no.

I tried to cover my confusion with a fake laugh. “Oh, of course I do. An open position. Deputy, huh?”

“Yeah, I know it’s a big step back, but I’m sure I could get you bumped up to corporal pretty quickly. What do you say?”

I had no idea what to say. The blue blood of the Sapphire Lake Police Department was bred into my veins. I had never once considered leaving, and it was a common assumption I’d be appointed chief someday. Regardless, I couldn’t imagine that under any circumstances I’d completely restart my career as an entry-level deputy.

Unless…

Could this have something to do with Nyx?

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I won’t lie to you, Tim. I’ve been through hell lately. I don’t think it’s in either of our best interests for me to make the jump to the sheriff’s department right now.”

He sighed. “I thought you might say that, but I wanted you to know we’d still love to have you if you’re ever interested again.”

“I appreciate the consideration.”

“Let me know if you change your mind. Maybe we can work something out in the future.”

“Thanks, Tim.”

“Bye, Essex.”

When the line was dead, I stared straight ahead.

That call only made sense if I applied Nyx and my hypnox-induced memory loss to it. But, god, could it have really been that serious with her?

And if it was, could I really forget someone I obviously—(gulp)—loved that much?

Shaking the question out of my head, I got out and Baker walked around my hood. “Hey, man. What are you still doing here?” I asked as I opened Karma’s door. I grabbed his collar, attached the leash, and unbuckled his harness.

“I just wrapped up with the magistrate on that domestic,” he said, his eyes bloodshot and heavy. He knelt down to give Karma a proper hello.

“I caught up on my group-chat reading this morning when I woke up. I know it was a late call, but did you have problems?”

“No problems. It was just a slow process, as always. I knew you’d be coming in soon, so I decided to hang out and talk to you in person.”

Karma trotted over to the sliver of green between the sidewalk and the building. There, he proceeded to water every blade of grass he could hike his leg over.

“Talk about what?” I asked as I adjusted the leash. I paused. “Please don’t say nightmares.”

“No, we didn’t get any of those.”

“None?”

“None.”

That was encouraging. Maybe it meant the nonsense was over. “What did you want to talk about then?”

Baker looked around and lowered his voice. “Karina Trammel.”

“The D.A.?”

He nodded. “She called in last night, asked for whoever was running Delta team these days. Dispatch put her through to me.”

“What’d she want?”

“She didn’t say, but I assume, from all the rumors, she wants to talk about Nyx. She asked if he could join us for shift briefing today.”

“Is she?”

He shrugged. “I couldn’t exactly refuse the D.A. I mean, we need that office. At the same time, Nyx is a brother—” He stopped himself. “You know what I mean.”

I did. She was one of us.

“I don’t know how Nyx got that tape of Birch and the mayor, and honestly, I don’t wanna know. I’m glad she did what she did. I just don’t think Trammel will react kindly to all the pushback she’s going to get if she starts hammering us about one of our own. Thought it might be something you’d want in on.”

“I’ll be there. I want to come meet the new kid anyway.”

“Thanks, Sarge.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

“Hey, can I ask you a question?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Of course.”

He jerked his chin toward my car. “What was that call about?”

My jaw went slack. “You heard that?”

“Speakers are pretty loud. Are you thinking about leaving?”

“No,” I said quickly.

The bend of his brow said he wasn’t buying it.

“Well, at least I’m not now. Sometime before my memory went to hell, I guess I had a conversation with Washoe County about switching departments.”

“Because of Nyx?” he asked, like it was a simple answer.

“I don’t know why,” I said truthfully.

Baker kicked some loose gravel with his polished boot. “I know you don’t want to talk about her, but you can. We all miss her. All the Delta guys.”

I grimaced against the sunshine. “Thanks.” I offered a handshake and he took it. “Go home and get some sleep. I’ll see you at shift briefing tonight.”

“Sounds good. Bye, Karma.”

Karma barked, and Baker stopped for another neck scratch.

I waited until he got into his car, then grabbed my backpack and went inside.

Again, I paused at the Wall of Heroes. This time, I focused on the man to the left of my father.

Detective Owen Ryan.

He was about my age when he’d died, survived by his wife and two little girls.

I wondered what advice he might give me now.

He’d probably say, “Stay the hell away from the Nyx family if you know what’s good for you.”

The problem was, I didn’t know—or, at least, I couldn’t remember—what was good for me.

It felt like two versions of Tyler Essex were at war: the level-headed guy, who’d always been super cautious about women; and the other guy, who’d apparently gotten so tangled up with a coworker and subordinate that he needed to find a new job.

Fuck.

Karma gave a quiet grumble and returned to the door just before it was flung inward. He clattered back out of the way just in time.

Valerie, balancing two paper coffee cups, one on top of the other, caught the door with her foot. A wallet was pinched between her teeth, and her eyes were crossed as she tried to put her ID card back into it. She almost dropped everything when she saw me and Karma.

“Need some help?” I asked.

She mumbled something that sounded like “here” and held the cups toward me.

I took them from her, and she grabbed the wallet from her mouth. “Thanks.” She put her ID card away and zipped the wallet shut before dropping it into the bag on her shoulder. “Hi, Karma!” She knelt with open arms. “Has my favorite boy come to see me today? Has he? Has he?” As Karma greeted her with kisses—Valerie kept treats in her desk for all the K-9s—she smiled up at me. “One of those cups is for you.”

“You got me coffee?”

“Sure did.” She furiously raked her painted nails through Karma’s coat.

“Why? Am I going to need it?” I asked, worried.

“Probably. This is a police station, or haven’t you heard?” She rubbed noses with my dog. “We all need a little boost from time to time, don’t we, Karma? Don’t we?” Karma’s tail wagged furiously, and she laughed. “Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy, I know! I know!”

I looked at her sideways. “Are you all right?”

“I’m great. On top of the world. Never better.” She gave Karma’s neck one last squeeze and popped up. “Why do you ask?”

While I scrambled for a response that wasn’t “because I’ve seen people on meth” she grabbed one of the coffee cups from me.

“This one’s mine. Carmel spice. Yum yum yum.” She smacked her lips.

I laughed softly. Explains a lot.

“I thought you quit,” I said.

“I did, but after I was there yesterday, I dreamed about the glorious smell of that cafe all day and night.” She lifted her cup to her lips and look a long slurp. “This was actually my second trip.”

I believed it. “Second trip? How long have you been here this morning?”

“Got here at six. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my husband has to go to Reno for work, so he drops the kids at school on his way in, and I come in early to get off in time to pick them up at three when the bell rings.” Her mouth was moving almost too fast to keep up.

“Remind me, are your kids boys or girls?”

“Three boys. Between them, my husband, and this place, I’m on testosterone overload all the time.” She laughed a little too loudly, then took another drink. “God, this stuff is delicious!”

“You definitely need your coffee then.” I lifted my cup. “Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Of course! Of course!”

There was a tone over the loudspeaker. “Sergeant Essex, please come to the front office.”

“Any idea what that’s about?” I asked.

Valerie shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Come on, Karma,” I said.

Karma sat on Valerie’s foot, looking back at her with his tongue dangling from the side of his mouth.

“Can he visit with me for a bit?” Valerie asked, offering her hand for his leash.

I gave it to her. “Sure, but don’t let him guilt you into more than one bone. He’s getting fat.”

She bent toward him. “And if I do, I’ll never ever tell your daddy, will I?”

Karma slurped her face.

“Who wants a treat? Does Karma want a treat?” she asked.

Karma popped up, his tail wagging in response.

“Thanks, Valerie. I’ll let you know if this is going to take long.”

“You take all the time you need. Karma and I will be just fine.”

I turned down the hallway that led out front. At the end, I used my key card to get through the heavy wooden doors to the lobby. On the other side was Carly Austin. 


I eased the door closed behind me, not because the door would disturb anyone, but to buy myself some more time before greeting her.

What the hell was she doing here?

She stood, beaming. “I was hoping you’d be here again today.”

“Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Just decided to drop by before work.”

She was wearing her uniform—today’s plaid was purple and orange—but I knew for a fact that the restaurant didn’t open for four hours.

“Can I help you with something?”

She walked toward me, lowered her voice, and cupped a hand around her mouth. “I had another dream last night.”

I looked around to see if we were in earshot of anyone. We weren’t, but I stepped closer to her and matched her hushed tone anyway. “Hey, just so we’re clear, I’m not interested in anything personal.”

She was surprised. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“I know, but you sent me your phone number and asked me to call you. Now, here we are.”

Carly tugged on my sleeve. “Hey, I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable—”

“You didn’t.”

“But I really did have another dream. I thought you’d want to hear about it.” She leaned toward my ear. “I know where they are.”

My head snapped back. I studied her eyes.

She gave an excited nod.

“Come on back.” Using my card again, I opened the door and held it for her.

“You have a little jail here and everything. I had no idea,” she said as we walked.

I pulled out my cell phone. “Yeah, we have to in case the weather blocks the highway. Excuse me a sec.” I dialed the number for the front desk we’d just come from.

“Sapphire Lake Police Department,” the guy answered.

“Hey, it’s Sergeant Tyler Essex. I was just in there. Can you put me through to Valerie Leon, please?”

“You’re in the building?”

“Yes.”

“You can dial her extension from any phone.”

“I don’t know her extension.”

“It’s one-three-six.”

“I don’t have an office phone. Can you just put me through?”

“Yes, sir. Just a moment.”

I lowered the phone away from my mouth. “Sorry, I suck at office work.”

“You don’t usually work here?” Carly asked.

“Not if I can help it.”

The phone line clicked. “This is Valerie.”

“Hey, it’s Essex. Are you busy?”

“Always, but what’s up?”

“Can you come meet me in Conference Room…uh—” I searched the placards on the wall—“three? I’ll try to not keep you long.”

“Sure. Want me to bring Karma?”

“That’s fine.”

“Be right there.”

I ended the call and directed Carly into the conference room. Leaving the door wide open, I hovered in the threshold, in plain view of the cameras in the hall. It was probably carefulness overkill, but the last thing I needed was a citizen getting the wrong idea. And if Carly was anything, she was persistent.

“I don’t bite.” As if reading my mind, Carly twisted a strand of her blonde ponytail around her finger. “Unless you ask me nicely.”

Yep. Keeping my ass in the hallway.

“We have rules we must follow to keep everyone safe. My colleague will be here soon.” Valerie might be bouncing around the conference room like a pinball, but she’d be here.

“I understand. I guess cops can’t be too careful.”

Exactly.

Valerie and Karma turned the corner in the hallway. Karma was licking his chops, probably slurping up every molecule of whatever snack Valerie had given him. I sipped my coffee. “Carly, do you mind dogs?”

“I love them,” she replied brightly.

When Valerie reached me, I offered to take his leash.

“I’ve got him.” She held it away from me. “You said this would only take a minute. Karma and I have big plans this morning.”

He panted at the sound of his name.

I led them both into the conference room. “Valerie, this is Carly Austin. Carly stopped by to tell me about a dream she had.” I plopped my shoulder bag onto the conference table across from Carly and pulled out a notebook.

Valerie sat down at the head of the table, and Karma cautiously sniffed the visitor.

“May I pet him?” she asked Valerie.

Valerie directed the question to me. “Sarge?”

“Go ahead,” I said. “But be warned, he might lick you to death.”

“That’s OK.” Carly scooted her rolling chair closer and leaned forward. “Hey, hot stuff.” She scratched his neck. “What’s his name?”

“Karma,” I answered.

She smiled. “Is Karma a bitch?”

“Well, Karma is a boy, but yes, a total bitch. Most of the time, anyway.”

“Hi, Karma!”

His nose was buried in her pant leg, then her sleeve, then the crook of her neck. She tensed and laughed as he shoved his cold nose into her ear.

“Karma, leave her alone,” I said, worried he might start humping her.

“He’s fine. I think he smells my Fifi,” she said.

“Who’s Fifi?” Valerie asked.

“My baby. Eighty-three pounds of fur and happiness. She’s an Old English Sheepdog.” Carly pulled out her phone and showed Valerie a fluffy white-and-gray dog with a pink bow on its head.

“Oh, it’s like the dog from The Little Mermaid!” Valerie cried.

“Yep. That was my favorite Disney movie as a kid.” She lowered her voice like she was about to tell Valerie a big secret. “Now it’s Frozen, but don’t tell Fifi.”

“She’s adorable.”

“Thanks,” Carly said, putting the phone away.

I clicked my pen a few times to get everyone back on task.

“So, you had a dream?” Valerie asked her.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Carly said.

“Not this week, it doesn’t,” Valerie said.

“Carly’s given me more detail than anyone so far.” I flipped open the notebook. “What’ve you got today?”

“So I was back in the water, this time kicking like mad for the surface. I didn’t think I’d ever get there. It was like swimming through maple syrup.”

“Kinda like when you’re running away from something in a nightmare and your legs won’t move?” Valerie asked.

“Exactly. I was so tired when I finally reached the surface that I just floated there a few minutes, staring up at the stars.”

“Do you know where you were?” I asked.

“You know the cliffs?”

I nodded.

Carly closed her eyes and held up both hands. “The cliffs were here.” She reached one hand forward. “Drexler Cove was here.” The other hand wagged a little to the left. “Fate’s Island and the Death Bridge were back behind me.”

The Hope Drexler Memorial Bridge had a few aliases. Locals called it the “Death Bridge,” claiming it was haunted. But every first responder knew it as the “Usual Spot” because if a wreck or a suicide was going to happen—that was usually the spot.

Just beyond the dam, the curved bridge over the mountain pass connected the main highway to the Drexler Resort property. It was 241-feet tall, with rocks and water down below.

None of us believed hauntings caused the wrecks; science did. Bridges ice before roads, simple as that. The suicides, on the other hand, added a huge dose of creepy to the ghost stories.

At least that told me which side of the lake Carly was dreaming about. “Any idea the distance to the cliffs or the cove?”

“Uh…I kinda suck with judging distance on anything but a ski slope.” She perked up in her seat. “I could show you, if we had a boat.”

I grimaced. “Not sure the police department is ready to start putting boats on the water in quest of dreams just yet.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Did anything else happen when you got to the surface?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I just saw where I was. It was like whatever, or whoever, was driving the dream wanted me to know.”

Valerie and I exchanged a look.

“Please don’t think I’m nuts,” Carly said.

“We don’t,” I said honestly. “It’s unusual, but it’s also kinda fascinating.”

“I agree. I’ve never had dreams like this before.”

“Do you dream a lot?” Valerie asked.

“Yeah. Always. My mother and sister do too. I think it runs in my family.”

“Tell me about lucid dreaming.” I flipped to a clean page in my notebook.

“Sure. I didn’t even know it was a thing until I saw a movie about it. I thought everyone knew they were dreaming when they were asleep.”

With some of the nightmares I was prone to, I wished I knew I was dreaming. Unfortunately, mine felt real, too real, and they were unusually inescapable.

“Now, when I have them, I can usually control what I do in them. Make decisions, move around, visit new places. I can even fly sometimes. It’s pretty cool.”

“Sounds like it,” Valerie said.

“I started keeping a dream journal a few years ago, and that’s helped make the dreams more vivid. It’s like my brain is tuned to remembering the details now. Makes them easier to navigate too. But, like I told you yesterday, these dreams are different. I’m not in control. Someone else is behind the wheel.”

Valerie cringed. “That’s terrifying.”

“Not really. I mean, the bodies were creepy as hell, but I didn’t feel afraid last night. It felt important. Like I needed to know where I was. I really wish we had a boat so I could show you.”

“If I come up with one, I’ll let you know,” I said. “Anything else?”

Her mouth squished to one side. “I’m working on something else, but I don’t want to get your hopes up about it in case it totally sucks.”

“In case what sucks?”

“In another life, I used to be an artist. I thought maybe that skill could come in handy now.”

“What kind of art?” Valerie asked.

“Mostly sketches, some painting, but I’m afraid I’m wildly out of practice, so I didn’t bring them with me today.”

“I’d love to see them and your dream journal, if you wrote about this.” I tapped my pen against my notebook.

With a smile, she nodded. “I’ll bring them by sometime.”

“Great.”

She stood. “I hope this was helpful.”

I was still hoping it was unnecessary. “Very. Thank you.”

“Valerie, it was nice to meet you.” The women shook hands.

“You too, Carly.”

Karma, worried he’d be forgotten, got up and leaned against Carly’s legs. She knelt beside him, scratching behind his ear. “I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to my new favorite friend.”

He licked her face, making her laugh.

I clicked my tongue, and he trotted over to me. Didn’t need him getting attached to another woman I was trying to avoid. 

Valerie waited outside the conference room as Karma and I walked Carly to the exit. “Thanks for stopping by,” I said, opening the lobby door for her.

“Of course. I’ll let you know if I dream again tonight.”

“Please do.”

She walked out but paused to smile back at me. “Maybe I’ll bring you some tacos next time I stop by.”

“Ha, thanks.” I waved and let the door close. Karma looked up at me. “That chick is going to ruin my favorite restaurant for me,” I said to him with a sigh.

Valerie was still waiting when we returned. “Nice girl.”

“Yeah.”

“I think she likes you.”

“I know she does. That’s why I asked you to come down.”

“Figured. Not interested?”

“Nah.”

We started back to the office.

“What do you make of her dreams?” Valerie asked.

“I have no idea. I’m going to dig into all the missing-persons reports that I can from the surrounding areas. Just to make sure we aren’t missing anyone that could be down there.”

“I didn’t want to say it in front of her, but you might be wrong about using the boats.”

“Why?”

“Chief Magnus wants to see you. He’s talking about dredging the lake for bodies.”

Chapter 9 – Part 1

“Take the damn boat, son.” Chief Magnus looked at me across his desk like I was crazy. “I’m completely willing to risk a tank of gas to prove there’s not a serial killer on the loose.”

“You really think there’s enough merit in these dreams to justify a search?”

“Do you think we have enough media credibility to justify not searching?”

He had a point.

“Sure, the calls are probably bogus, but what if that woman at News 4 gets wind that we’ve received…how many calls?”

“Sixteen.”

“Sixteen calls, and we haven’t even looked into them? Good god, they’ll tear us apart. And can you imagine if we do nothing and bodies start to surface? Then we’ll have a serial killer and a media firestorm on our asses. Hell, I’d go myself if it wouldn’t attract too much attention.”

“You’re right. I’ll notify Marine Patrol.”

“Do some thorough research to rule out a hoax but make damn sure there’s nothing down there that we don’t know about. If that means taking out a boat and blowing a tank of gas, do it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Just keep a low profile. Enough people know about this nonsense already. When you find the spot, tell them to ready the divers or underwater drones or whatever they want to use.”

“10-4.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Tell me about this girl with the dreams.”

“Carly Austin been an acquaintance for a while. She’s a manager at a restaurant a lot of us frequent. Credible source, I think, even if the subject matter is a little bizarre.”

“You can say that again. Have you talked to Nyx?”

It had taken him longer to ask than I’d imagined. “Not yet, sir. I haven’t had the time.”

It was a bold face lie, and the look Chief was giving said he suspected as much.

“I know the past few weeks have been hell on you, Tyler, and I know things are awkward with you and Nyx, but we really need her on this.”

“May I ask why, sir?”

He stared at me a moment, like he was choosing his words carefully. “Saphera Nyx is an asset. You only need to look at her training and her record to see that.”

“Yes, sir, I know she has an impressive resume, but—”

“Do you know there have been less than sixty women in all of history to graduate Ranger school, and she’s one of them?”

“Yes, sir—”

“Not only that, but she was recruited to work in one of the most exclusive intelligence battalions on the planet. I can’t even begin to think what kind of test scores must land you in there.”

“Yes, but—”

“And if her military background isn’t enough—which it should be—in the past three years, she’s had more high-threat arrests, more mass narcotics seizures, and more lives saved than anyone else in this department, all with zero unjustified uses of force. We’d be stupid not to keep her close.”

That was all genuinely impressive, but my gut told me Chief had another reason. A reason that had something to do with all the strange things that happened around Nyx. The strange thing that had happened to me…

I leaned forward, looked cautiously back to make sure the door was closed, and lowered my voice. “You know something else you’re not telling me. Something else she’s not telling me.”

He stared at me.

“Chief, I respect you, and I respect Nyx, but if either of you have a shred of respect for me, then someone will tell me that I haven’t just lost my mind for no fucking reason.”

Pain and pity were etched deep in his hazel eyes. “I’m very sympathetic to what you’ve been through, but I’m sorry. If you want answers, as much as I want to help you, I’m afraid you won’t find them here.”

“I’m getting that a lot.” I spoke through gritted teeth.

“I mean it. I am sorry.”

“Yeah.” I tried and failed to relax every angry muscle that was clenched between my fists and my jaw. “But I’ll do as you ask. I’ll stop by and see Nyx tonight, as soon as shift briefing is over.”

“Thank you. You should probably warn her about Trammel too. Tell her she might want to lawyer up.”

If he’d thought he could divert our conversation so easily, he was wrong. Tense silence filled the office for a few painfully uncomfortable beats. Finally, the chief spoke again, “Do you trust me, Tyler?”

It was my turn for staring.

A thin smile spread across his face. “I appreciate the honesty in the pause. Your father, James, did that too. Could never tell a lie without an internal debate about it first.” He eased forward in his chair. “Let me ask something easier. Do you want my job someday?”

I flinched. “Chief, I have no intention of challenging you or undermining—”

“I know that.” Resting his elbows on the desktop, he steepled his fingertips in front of his nose. “Just answer the question. Do you want to be Chief of Sapphire Lake someday?”

I took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

He studied my face for a while, so long it made me shift on my chair to disrupt the heat of his gaze. “Well, while you’re deciding, let me give you some advice your father once gave me.”

I straightened in my seat.

“The only person in this world you can truly trust is yourself. You’d better know deep in your heart whether you’re the hero or the villain because, sometimes, even the ones in your corner won’t trust which way you lean.” He gave me a knowing look. “So you’d better know it about yourself.”

He was absolutely right. In a career where split-second decisions could have deadly consequences, integrity was the backbone of everything we did. We also had to trust the men and women standing beside us. We needed to know that if the worst rolled our way, our comrades would plant their feet and have our backs.

That was the part I was wary of.

“Should I trust you, Chief?”

He leaned toward me. “If you want this office, son, you should never completely trust anyone.”

 

MORE COMING SOON!

 

Chapter 9 – Part 2

I spent the next few hours covertly ruling out the possibility that the dream calls were a hoax. As far as I could tell, none of the callers knew each other. With the exception of one man’s wife, who was a cousin of another caller, no one was related. Most of them did, however, all live approximately in the same vicinity.

The chief’s words stuck with me all day. Even on the drive to lunch, my head was still spinning from our conversation. Not only was I still wondering about his endgame with keeping Nyx close, now I was debating which side of the moral divide the chief himself fell on.

He knew something about her.

Knew something about what had happened to me.

Cops were a protective bunch, fiercely loyal to their own. So the fact that he would choose to keep me in the dark to protect Nyx—now an outsider to the fold—spoke volumes as to what secrets the Chief was harboring.

Interestingly, his tone had no sense of loyalty or personal devotion to Nyx. He was emotionally disconnected. His secrecy and protection of her was about making allies, not about keeping friends. It was a political move. A power move.

But why?

And what did this all have to do with my memory loss?

I was a pawn in the game I had no idea I was playing.

When I reached the long shore of the lake, across from the shopping and dining mecca of Winter Village, I turned on my blinker and pulled into the boathouse parking lot. Its official name was “Station Two, Marine Patrol,” but all the cops in Sapphire Lake called this place the Tiki Hut.

It was a cush job, the most coveted assignment in all of the department. The Tiki Hut was walking distance from all the best restaurants, their offices overlooked the lake, and the only calls they responded to happened on the water. That meant for half the year, when the water was too cold for humans, their biggest source of excitement (or stress) was fishing violations.

The posts were held mostly for command-staff members who were nearing retirement. After serving two terms as Chief, my stepfather had manned the Tiki Hut until he retired. I’d always given him shit that he went from Chief to running the Baywatch division of Sapphire Lake, without the busty lifeguards and David Hasslehoff.

He said I was jealous.

He was right.

I walked inside and pulled off my dark sunglasses. At the sound of the door, Shepherd “Shep” Rolland looked up from behind his computer. Snow-white hair was brushed back over his suntanned head, and he wore a black department polo shirt, just like mine. In the reflection of the window behind him, I could see I was interrupting a game of digital solitaire.

“Tyler Essex, good to see you.” Shep stretched his back when he stood, and his middle sagged a bit over his khakis. It was a well-deserved softness after serving twenty-nine years with the department.

His smile brightened when he saw me, and he came out and greeted me with a strong handshake.

“Hi, Shep.”

“How are you doing? I know you and your whole team had quite the ordeal.”

“Yes, sir. I’m much better. Thanks for the get-well card you sent.”

He looked confused. “I sent a get well card?”

We both laughed.

“That must have been Susan,” he said, speaking of his wife. They were both friends of my parents after having worked together for so long. “She makes me seem a lot more thoughtful than I am.”

I smiled. “Isn’t that the job of any cop’s wife?”

He chuckled. “I guess it is. It’s good to see you out and about. Are you back to work yet?” His eyes fell to my outfit, a far cry from a patrol uniform.

“Light duty for a bit.”

“Hate to hear that. Worst days of my service.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry you and Nyx didn’t work out. Her grandfather said she’s really torn up about it.”

“You know her grandfather?”

Shep looked surprised. “He and I go to the same lodge. You know that.”

No, I didn’t.

“Oh, that’s right.” I tried to shrug it off. “My head’s a mess since everything happened. It’s a miracle I found my way here today.”

He slapped my shoulder. “Nothing to be ashamed of, Tyler.”

I bit the insides of my lips and nodded.

“So what brings you by? Are you here to deliver my mail?” he asked with a teasing grin.

“No, but I can bring it the next time I come. Paperwork is my jam at the moment.”

Shep laughed. “Not necessary. I’m only joking. What can I do for you?”

“I need a boat ride.”

“You going sightseeing or is this official business?”

“Official business, I think. We’ve had some weird calls this week. People dreaming about bodies in the lake.”

His eyes narrowed. “What did you say?”

“I know it sounds nuts, but—”

“I didn’t say it sounds nuts. Tell me about these dreams.”

There was something in his voice. Something in his eye. “Shep, have you had dreams too?”

His dry, cracked lips parted. “It happened a few nights ago, but it was in a dream exactly. It was more like someone telling me a story as I was drifting off.”

A chill rippled my skin.

“It was so real I woke back up and shut off my CPAP machine because I thought I heard somebody talking. Susan thought I’d lost my mind. Other people have been hearing the same thing?”

“I don’t know about hearing things, but others have been dreaming about bodies in the lake. Most of them were embarrassed about calling in.”

“Makes sense. I didn’t call in.”

“Did you feel you should?”

His cheeks reddened. “Yes, but it was nothing. Susan didn’t hear anything. It was just a dream, right?”

“I don’t know, but Chief Magnus wants us to be sure nothing is down there. Can you take me out on the boat?”

“You know the terrain beneath that water is as varied as the mountain pass. They say there are caves down there that no one’s ever found the ends of.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Got any idea where to start looking? I know it’s not Tahoe, but without narrowing down the search area, we could spend all day in one of the coves alone.”

“One of the dreamers thinks she could point out where she saw in her dream if we took her out on the water.”

He scratched his head.

“I know it’s bizarre, but Chief gave an insistent green light,” I said.

“Definitely bizarre. I’ve been around for a long time and have never heard about anything like this.”

“No one has. You up for it? Or are you too busy around here?” I joked, casting a glance toward a pile of confiscated beer coolers and banned rope-swing equipment.

“Don’t be a hater, Tyler,” he said with a grin.

“Oh, I’m counting my days until I can take your job.”

“I know you are. Well, we’ve got one boat in the water at all times. You just let me know when you want to go.”

“Maybe sometime tomorrow after lunch?” My doctor’s appointment was in the morning.

“That works for me. I’ve got a group of school kids coming in the morning for a tour.”

“I’ll talk to my source and see if she’s available.”

“Sounds like a plan and a half.”

“Mind if I bring my dog? He keeps getting out of his fence at home, so he’s riding shotgun most of the time with me.”

“Of course not. I love Karma.”

Everybody did.

“Is he here?” Shep asked, looking over my shoulder toward the parking lot.

“No. Valerie took him on a walk for her lunch break.” I was beginning to wonder if I was going to get my dog back.

“I’ll look forward to seeing him tomorrow then.”

“Thanks, Shep. I’ll let you know what time.”

Chapter 9 – Part 3

Almost like it knew where I was headed, my stomach was growling by the time I walked into Sin City Tacos. Per usual, there wasn’t an open table anywhere.

“Just one?” the young hostess asked.

“Yep.”

She looked around. “It might be a bit of a wait for a table, but there are a few open seats at the bar.”

“Wherever I can get a quick bite and have a word with Carly is fine with me.”

“Sure thing. I’ll let her know you were here. What’s your name?”

“Sergeant Tyler Essex.”

Alarm flashed on her face, but she quickly recovered and picked up a menu. “Follow me.”

I sat on the far right stool at the bar and looked over the menu until Carly came out from the kitchen. She looked happy, too happy to see me as she walked around behind the bar. “Hey, Tyler. This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Sorry. I hope you aren’t too busy for a quick visitor. I promise to not take up too much of your time.”

She leaned across the wooden bartop, giving me a clear view down the cavern of her cleavage. “You take up as much of my time as you wish.”

“This really won’t take long. Would you be free anytime tomorrow to go out on one of our police boats?”

“Tomorrow would be perfect, actually. It’s my day off. What time?”

“Three o’clock?”

“That works. If something changes, you have my number.” Her long eyelashes fluttered. She was determined to get her hooks in me one way or another.

“Dress warm,” I said. “It will be chilly out on the water.”

“It’s getting chilly everywhere these days. You know they’re calling for snow on Halloween.”

“Bet you’re excited.”

“You bet! First powder of the year. You hungry? Want your usual?”

“That’d be great.”

She stepped over to a tablet anchored to the bar. “What do you want to drink?”

“Iced tea.”

“Extra sweet?” she asked with a wink.

“You know me well.” I pulled out my phone and called Station Two.

Shep answered on the first ring. “Sapphire Lake Police.”

“Shep, it’s Essex. Three o’clock tomorrow?”

“Works for me.”

“Great. See you then.”

I ended the call as Carly handed me a glass of tea mixed with sugar syrup from behind the bar. “Here you are.”

“Thank you.” I took a long drink as she watched for approval. “It’s perfect.”

She winked. “I’ll bring your food in a jiff.”

I gave her a thumbs-up, and she returned to the kitchen. When she was gone, I picked up my phone again and navigated to my text messages. I pulled up my chat thread with Nyx. I’d read its history a thousand times over the past couple of weeks, but there was nothing there to suggest anything more than a platonic relationship.

I sent her a new message. Magnus wants me to see you. Can I stop by after shift briefing tonight?

There was a long delay. I realized my heart thumped harder each time I checked and rechecked my screen for a reply.

Why did I care so much? It was like my body was still connected to her, even if my brain had completely checked out. Frustrated with myself, I put the phone down and rubbed my tired eyes.

The phone buzzed against the bartop. I snatched it up quickly to read her reply. I’ll be home around six.

I was relieved.

Excited.

See you then.

 

Also… have you heard the news? Or have you heard me squealing?

There’s no better time than now to join the HYDERNATION Book Club! Look who’s joining us for the next one! 

 

Chapter 10 – Part 1

The patrol room was full when I walked in for shift briefing. The guys applauded and cheered, making my face blister with heat. I waved as I walked toward the front. “I’m not back officially. Just stopping in to say hello.”

I scanned the room, mentally checking off the members of Delta team.

Baker

Rivera

Jones

McCollum

Legeiza

The new kid

No Everly.

Now a silent shrine to his absence, his seat in the back of the room was still empty.

Nyx’s seat was also empty.

“Sarge, when are you coming back for real?” McCollum asked.

“I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor tomorrow. I’ll know more then.”

“We’re looking forward to having you back,” Jones said.

“Here, here,” Baker agreed.

“I’m going to step out of the way and let Baker conduct business, but I’ll be around to say hi before you guys head out.” I walked to the back of the room and leaned against the wall near the door. As Baker talked about zone assignments, the door opened, and Karina Trammel was behind it.

This definitely wasn’t a social visit. She was decked out in courtroom attire: black skirt and matching blazer, with a red blouse that matched her lipstick. She wore no-nonsense low heels and an edge to her jaw that dared criminals (and other attorneys) to underestimate her. Her shoulder-length dark hair was cut to frame her light-brown face, and while I didn’t know much about make-up, hers looked like it had been applied with an airbrush.

I intercepted her, stepping through the doorway to move her back into the hallway. “Good evening, Ms. Trammel.”

“Sergeant Essex, so good to see you,” she said, brightly. “I think we’ve known each other long enough for you to call me Karina.”

No thanks.

When she was still Assistant D.A., Trammel and I had worked with her on a number of cases, but first names were for friends—and friends we were not.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Better every day. Thanks for asking, and thank you for your note.”

“Of course. I was so sorry to hear about all you went through.”

“Thankfully, it’s behind me now.”

“When I heard you were working in the office this week, I was hopeful to see you. I’m glad I bumped into you tonight.”

“Why?” I asked, though I knew exactly why.

“I’d like to talk to you about Saphera Nyx.”

Called it.

“What about her?”

“How is she after the ordeal?”

“You’d have to ask her. We don’t talk much.”

“Really? I thought the two of you were close.”

“Not since the cemetery, ma’am.”

She looked genuinely sympathetic. “Trauma can have devastating effects on relationships.”

No shit.

“Yes, ma’am. Anything else?”

Her lower jaw shifted as she realized I wasn’t interested in friendly chit-chat. “As her supervisor, what can you tell me about Corporal Nyx?”

My brain scrambled. “I can get her file if you like to—”

“I’ve seen her file, thank you. I’d like to know what you think of her. Professionally, speaking.” When I didn’t answer right away, Trammel elaborated. “In a general sense. Was she a good cop? A person of integrity?”

“Out of curiosity, why do you ask?”

“I’m sure it’s no secret that many of us are interested in how she got the video recording from my predecessor’s office.”

I crossed my arms. “If you’re hoping I know, I don’t.”

“I don’t expect you to know. If you did, I’m sure you would’ve come forward by now.” It was unclear what Trammel was getting at. Her face was as unreadable as any cop’s—or any lawyer’s, for that matter—but the challenge to my own integrity was clear.

“Of course I would,” I said, ninety-nine percent certain I was telling her the truth.

“In her official statement, Corporal Nyx stated she was given the tape by an anonymous source. Do you believe that?”

“She’s given me no reason to not believe her.” Nyx had been nothing but vague since I’d woken up from my poisoning. She’d avoided the truth like callback after a bad date, but she hadn’t exactly lied to me.

“Do you trust her?”

There was that word again.

I considered (and worded) my answer carefully. “I’ve trusted Nyx before with my life, and I’m still here.”

Trammel let the statement simmer between us for a moment. “Just so you know, we are investigating all angles of this case.”

“I’m not surprised.” That was her job.

“We’re investigating several other cases she’s been involved with as well. Were you surprised Nyx quit the force?”

I honestly didn’t know Nyx well enough, at least anymore, to have an opinion on the matter, but I had no idea how to explain that to the good lawyer without sounding like a liar. Or worse, mentally unsound. I’d never win another case in court if word got around that my brain was a bit broken.

Thankfully, Chief Magnus rounded the corner before I was forced to muddle through an answer. “Hello, Ms. Trammel. I wasn’t expecting to see you again today.”

She bristled. “Yes, Chief. I came by to talk with Delta team. I hope that’s OK.”

“Of course. Are you here saying hello or is this official business?”

“A little of both. I’m trying to greet everyone, so I can make my transition into the D.A.’s office as smooth as possible, but I also wanted to talk to your nightshift about Saphera Nyx. I was wondering if any of her teammates might have some information that could help me.”

“I guess that depends on your definition of help. I’m sure every officer on her former shift will tell you the same as what I told you. Saphera Nyx was one hell of a police officer, and this department is weaker for not having her around.”

“Yes, you’ve made that clear,” she said, mildly annoyed.

Chief Magnus treaded a fine line with this investigation. Legally, he couldn’t do anything to hinder it, but he was obviously taking the same zip-lipped approach with Trammel as he’d taken with me.

Which made me wonder…

What did he know about that tape? A more dangerous thought quickly followed. What might have I forgotten about that tape?

Shit.

“But you don’t mind my being here do you? Talking to your officers?” she asked.

“Of course not. You’re always welcome.”

“Welcome” might be a stretch, but the department’s smooth relationship with the district attorney’s office was an absolute must. We could do our jobs without Trammel and those under her.

As if signaling my blessing as well, I opened the door for her. “They’ll probably wrap up in about fifteen minutes. I’ll join you in a moment.”

“Thank you, both, for your help.”

“Anytime,” Chief said as she walked into the patrol room.

When I closed the door behind her, I turned to the chief. “Are we going to talk about this?”

He seemed mildly amused. “Talk about what?”

That was what I thought.

“Don’t worry about Trammel with your guys, Sergeant. What I told her is true. Everyone in that room will agree, Nyx was one of the best cops we’ve ever had.”

“You don’t think any of them might know how she got that video?”

“Nah.” His answer was quick and sure, like he’d already questioned them—or like he’d never needed to. “Are you sticking around for a while?” he asked before I could inquire further.

“For a few minutes. I’m gonna meet our new guy, and then I’ll head over to see Nyx.”

“Good. Let me know what she says.”

“Yes, sir.”

As he walked away, I wasn’t sure if I’d just lied to him or not. His words from earlier replayed in my mind again, “…never completely trust anyone.”

But one thing was certain: I did trust myself, and at some point in time I had trusted Nyx. I needed to talk to her. Needed to get the truth from her somehow.

I looked at my watch. She’d be home by now, but I still needed to meet the new guy on our team, so I walked in to catch the end of my team’s briefing. Baker was wrapping up, asking if anyone had any final questions about the night ahead of them. When no one did, he closed his padded management notebook. “All right then. Be safe out there, guys.”

Legeiza and McCollum were the first out of their seats. They were on their way toward me when Karina Trammel intercepted them.

Jones was and the new guy gave the D.A. a wide berth to meet me near the door. “Sarge,” Jones said, shaking my hand. He jerked his head toward Trammel. “What’s that about?”

“She’s here asking questions about Nyx.”

“Damn.”

“I know. She’ll probably get you too, sooner or later.” I glanced at the new kid behind him.

Jones made the introduction. “Sarge, this is Officer Christian Salva.”

God, he was young. Not a fleck of silver in his jet black hair, nor a wrinkle on his face. But I knew immediately that those weren’t the reasons the guys had called him “green.”

Christian Salva had that look. That newbie glow of someone who still thought they could save the world. We’d all been there at some point. For me, it was as a little kid, hearing stories about both my dads. They were superheroes, larger than life.

They were still were, but I’d also been raised with their battle scars. The horrific realties cop’s face every day. In a way, I appreciated them even more, but the rosy glow in this kid’s eyes had never been part of my career. Salva had no damn clue what demons lurk in this job.

His chest puffed out as he offered his hand. “Sergeant Essex.” His voice was so stern I wondered if he might salute me.

“At ease, soldier,” I said with a grin, pumping his fist. “I hope our guys aren’t giving you too much hell.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“No need to lie, man. He saw the video,” Jones said, chuckling.

Salva’s shoulders fell. “You showed him?”

“We’ve shown everyone,” Jones replied. “I’m thinking of sending it in to one of those home video shows. Pay for my new snowmobile.”

Salva finally laughed, a good sign. If he couldn’t take some shit from us, how would he handle it on the streets?

“Don’t let them get to you,” I said. “How are you liking nightshift so far?”

“Not gonna lie, the first couple of weeks were rough. We have a new baby, and our apartment walls are paper thin.”

I cringed. “Enough said.”

“Don’t worry, though. I promise to bring my A-game to every shift.”

Jones clapped him on the back. “Simmer down, newbie. You’ve already got the job.”

“I look forward to working with you. I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to meet until now.”

“It’s OK. I know you’ve been out. I was sorry to hear about what you went through.”

“Thanks. You guys stay safe tonight.”

“See you later, Sarge,” Jones said, opening the door to the hallway.

In the hall, Valerie was waiting with Karma. She looked worried.

I stepped out. “Everything OK?”

She grimaced. “I don’t know.”

“What’s up?”

She looked down at my dog. “He got into some doughnuts in the break room.”

I scowled down at him. He immediately looked away, like he knew he was in trouble. “I’m not surprised. How many did he get?”

“All of them, I think.”

“All?”

“A whole box. Sorry, I was talking to someone and not paying attention—”

“Stop. Don’t worry about. I guarantee you he’s eaten worse. Did any of them have chocolate?” I asked, taking Karma’s leash.

“No. I’m pretty sure they were all plain glazed.” She knelt in front of him. “I enjoyed you being my partner today. I hope you don’t get sick.”

“Thanks for watching him.”

“Anytime. Will he be back tomorrow?”

I laughed. “I sincerely hope not.”

 

 

Chapter 10 – Part 2

I texted Nyx before Karma and I left the station. On my way.

I’ll be waiting.

My heart fluttered in my chest. Was it nerves?

Excitement?

Heartburn?

Whatever it was, for the first time I could remember, I wasn’t completely dreading seeing her. Wasn’t exactly looking forward to it either, but my current mood was vastly improved from the last time I’d been headed to her place. Maybe it was the time I’d had to mentally prepare. Maybe it was my determination to get an answer out of someone. Hell, maybe it was just pheromones.

Karma farted so loud it rumbled the leather back seat.

“I heard that,” I looked at him in the rearview mirror. Ignoring me, he faced the side window.

A second later, the smell hit me. “Good god, dog.” I rolled down the window, half expecting green gas to waft outside. “I hope those doughnuts were worth it?”

He panted.

My ETA at Nyx’s house was five minutes, as long as I didn’t encounter a wreck on the bridge. With the way my eyes were watering, I wasn’t sure Karma or I would make it. There was no safe place to stop between here and my exit. The road hugged the cliff, with mountains on one side and a hundred-foot drop on the other. “Cross your legs, Karma. I’ll get there as fast as I can.” 

I was gagging by the time I reached Nyx’s driveway. I parked in front of her lone Jeep and jumped from the car like it was on fire. After filling my lungs with cold fresh air, I opened the back door, held my breath, and unbuckled the dog. “Go on. Get all that grease and sugar out of your system.”

Karma darted across the grass toward the entrance stoop. Skidding to stop on his hind legs, he unleashed hell on the flower bed.

The front door squeaked as it opened.

Nyx’s hair was up in a messy knot, and she wore a fuzzy white turtleneck with jeans that hugged her lower best parts. There was a slight bulge in her waistband, signaling a compact on her right hip. My heart was in my throat.

Never in my life had I seen a woman sexier.

“Uhh…Essex?” Her face soured, looking down past her steps.

I totally forgot about my dog shitting all over her plants.

“Karma,” I whined. A pile of runny sludge bled over onto her sidewalk. “I’m sorry. I’ll bring my pressure washer over and take care of that.”

She laughed. “It’s fine. Wanna come inside?”

“Better not.” I nodded toward my squatting K-9. “If you value your floors at all.”

“Is he sick?”

“He got into some doughnuts at the office before we left, and I’m sure he’s had all kinds of treats today.” I’d call the vet if this (literal) shit didn’t stop soon. “Mind if we talk out here?”

“Sure. Let me grab a coat.”

My eyes were glued to her ass as she walked back inside. I tore my gaze away, shoved my hands into my coat pockets, and blew out a sigh that clouded the air. “Get your shit together, Essex,” I whispered.

Karma trotted up Nyx’s front steps and scratched the front door.

“Karma, heir.” With his head hung low, he returned to me. I knelt in front of him and pulled at the skin on the back of his neck to check for dehydration. “You OK, boy?”

He slurped my nose.

“Thanks, Karma.”

The front door opened again, and Nyx walked out, bundled in a thick, white-and-black ski jacket. Karma bolted back to greet her properly. She bent to scratch him. “I’ve missed you too, buddy,” she said quietly.

She walked over and sat on her Jeep’s bumper. “How’s light duty?”

I leaned against my warm hood. “Weird. I’m hoping my doctor releases me tomorrow.”

“I’ll cross my fingers for you. I know your memory is screwed, but how are you otherwise? Anything else jacked up from the poison?”

“I don’t think so. Sleep sucks, but that’s not exactly new.”

She flinched just enough for me to notice. “What’s going on with your sleep?”

“What sleep?” I asked with a smile.

“Oh. No sleep is the problem?”

“Yeah. I doze off and wake up, doze off, wake up. It’s a maddening cycle.”

“Worse since the cemetery?”

I nodded, though I wasn’t sure why I was telling her. Or why she cared. “That’s not why I’m here. Chief wanted me to stop by.”

“About the dreams?”

I was surprised. “You heard about them?”

“I’m still on the Delta group chat. I told Baker to start a new one without me, but he hasn’t done it yet.”

She hadn’t responded in the thread, so I hadn’t noticed, but I needed to talk to Baker about that.

“What are the dreams?” she asked.

“You don’t think it’s bullshit?”

For a flash of a second, Nyx looked caught, but she quickly countered. “Magnus obviously doesn’t think it’s bullshit. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. That alone has me curious.”

But there is more. I knew there had to be more. Her reaction confirmed it, so I honed in on her body language regardless of what may or may not come out of her mouth.

“You’re right.” I propped my heel against the push bar (or the ram guard, as I called it) on the front of my SUV. “We’ve had numerous reports so far from callers dreaming about bodies in the lake.”

“How many is numerous?”

“Seventeen. Eighteen, unofficially.”

It was hard to tell if the numbers surprised her. Her beautiful face was stone. “It sounds like a prank,” she said.

“That’s what I thought too, but I don’t understand the joke if it’s supposed to be funny.”

“I don’t either. Can you tell me what the dreams were?”

“Most of them were pretty vague. Dreams about bodies in the lake?”

“Why did they call in? I mean, who calls the police about nightmares?”

“Good question. Most, if not all, of the callers had their own reservations about contacting us.”

“So why did they?”

“Shep told me today that he felt like he should.”

Nyx straightened a bit. “Shep Rolland had dreams too?”

“He’s the unofficial report. I talked to him today about taking a boat out on the water. When I told him why, he said he’d experienced something like a dream, like someone was telling him there were bodies in the water. He said the voice was so clear, he asked his wife if she heard it. She didn’t.”

Her jaw shifted as she stared at me. Something was happening in her head; I just couldn’t work out what it was. “He heard a specific voice?”

“Yes.”

“Was it a male voice?”

That was an odd question.

“He didn’t say. Why?”

She broke eye contact and shook her head. “No reason.”

That was a lie.

“What else?” she asked.

“Nothing else from him. The only dreamer who was really specific was Carly Austin.”

Her head pulled back. “The manager from Sin City?”

“Yeah. She called yesterday with a lot of details. Said she’s a lucid dreamer. Have you ever heard of that?”

“I’ve read about it lately. What did she say?”

“She described what she saw in the water with freakish clarity, down to the condition of the corpses and what they were wearing.”

“So they were dead people?”

“Sounds like it. And she was sure they were in Sapphire Lake.”

“How was she sure?”

“She came in this morning and said she dreamed again that she swam to the surface. She saw landmarks like Drexler Cove, the cliffs, Fate’s Island, and the Death Bridge.”

“She came into the station?”

I nodded. “Met with her myself.”

“Huh.” With a quiet huff, Nyx crossed her arms. She didn’t like my seeing Carly.

The corners of my mouth twitched, and I fought hard to keep from smiling. No matter my memory situation, it felt damn good to make this smoking-hot woman a little jealous.

“And you’re taking her seriously enough that you’re going to investigate with Shep?”

“We’re taking a boat out tomorrow afternoon to mark the spot she saw in her dream.”

“She’s going too?”

“Yep.”

Nyx bit her lower lip and mine curled again.

“Can I come?” she asked, and I was glad I was leaning against something sturdy. Otherwise, I might have fallen down from surprise.

“You want to come?”

“I’d like to see where it is.”

For a second, I considered it. “Probably not a good idea right now. Chief wants to keep a low profile, and there’s a lot of media heat on you.”

“Then why did he want you to talk to me?”

“I was hoping you knew.”

Nyx glanced away. “I’ve been trying to figure the chief out for a while now.”

That made two of us. “What do you think about him?”

“You want my opinion about the chief?” Now she was surprised.

I nodded.

“I don’t really know him well enough yet, but you’ve always spoken highly of him.”

I was sure I had.

“And everyone agrees with you. His history certainly proves that he’s serious about putting away the bad guys…”

“But?” I asked.

She gazed up at the mountains to our right, and I admired the gentle curve of her jaw, the smooth slope of her neck. Her ears were pierced, and she wore tiny silver studs that were so small I couldn’t make out their shape.

“Is this conversation on or off the record?” she finally asked.

“None of this conversation is in an official capacity. There is no record.”

Our eyes locked. In the fading sunlight, hers were a rich light-brown, almost golden, that contrasted her black brows and eyelashes. My stomach fluttered just looking at her.

“I don’t know why, but I don’t completely trust him.” Her gaze didn’t waver. “And you don’t either, or you wouldn’t be asking. What’s happened?”

“Nothing except he’s hellbent on chasing down citizens’ dreams and using you to do it. I just can’t figure out why. What does this have to do with you?” I focused on her, narrowing my vision to catch every bit of her body language.

“I have no idea,” she answered so quickly it was impossible to doubt her. “At least I have no idea why he’s worried about dreamland.”

“But you do know why he wants you on the case?”

She sighed. “Yes.”

“Nyx, just tell me. How are you wrapped up in all this?”

She stared up at the sky, exposing her throat and making my mind conjure up images of kissing it. I blinked hard, bringing my thoughts back into line. I focused elsewhere, on her white knuckles from the death grip she had on the bumper outside her thighs.

Karma trotted over and stopped between us.

Glug-glug.

“Uh oh.” I recognized the hunch of my dog’s back. What was about to happen, I hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving last year, when he scarfed down an entire pecan pie while no one was looking. That had been ugly. As a sympathy puker, I’d almost joined him.

Glug-glug.

“Nyx, you might want to stand back.”

Karma’s back arched as he dry heaved.

“Should we do something?” Nyx asked, equally concerned and disgusted.

“Prepare a shovel?”

Before I even reached the end of the sentence, the contents of his stomach was violently expelled onto her concrete driveway. The sound was nearly enough to make me join him. I looked away, clenching my teeth and steeling my stomach.

Karma looked up from the pile of dough and bile with sheepish eyes. I knelt and gave him a reassuring scratch behind his ears. “It’s OK, boy. You couldn’t help it.”

“Ugh.” Nyx’s face screwed up. “Did he eat them whole?”

With a quick glance, I saw one was still a perfect circle.

“God, that’s gross.” I shuddered and Nyx laughed.

“I guess it’s his day to perpetuate the cliché that all cops—even the K-9s—love doughnuts,” she said.

“I guess.”

She started toward the house. “I’ll get the hose.”

Karma bent his head toward the ground, and I knew what was coming. I hooked my arm under his neck to keep him from lapping the vomit back up. “Oh no you don’t. We’re not doing that again.”

Nyx open her electric garage door, and I saw inside was piled with boxes. She returned with a shovel and a garden hose.

While I cleaned up the mess, Nyx brought Karma some water in a bowl. By the time I finished spraying off the driveway, he was chasing squirrels around her yard.

I was about to reopen the conversation with Nyx when Bess pulled in. Nyx and I would have to wait.

“If it isn’t my favorite police officer,” Bess said as she got out of her car. She quickly glanced at Nyx, who was scowling. “Don’t look at me like that. You quit, remember?”

Nyx smiled and shook her head.

Bess beamed over at me. Her whole nose was bright red. The piercing didn’t look like it was healing very well. “How are you, Tyler?”

“I’m well. How are you?”

“I’m good, and I’m about to be great!” She looked at Nyx and laughed.

My eyes narrowed with confusion as I cast a curious glance between the two women.

“She’s about to owe me big time,” Bess explained.

Nyx pulled up her coat sleeve to look at her watch. “I still have four hours.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Tyler, you know how much Nyx likes a good wager—”

“Hey!” Nyx warned seriously.

Bess’s lips snapped shut. Then laughed to try to cover whatever it was that she had almost said that she shouldn’t. “Sorry.” She zipped her lips closed, and Nyx rolled her eyes.

I’d obviously missed something.

“What was the bet?” I asked.

“Last night, Nyx thought she’d get snarky about my mad tech skills.” Bess pretended to type on an air keyboard. “She said I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, so I bet her she couldn’t figure out how to fix her phone in the next twenty-four hours.”

“It’s still autocorrecting all of your noes to yeses?”

Nyx’s annoyed glare confirmed that was the case. “Among other things,” she grumbled.

“What happens if she loses?” I asked Bess.

“Then she must grant me three wishes—”

“I told you, I’m not a genie in a lamp.” Nyx crossed her arms.

“Three requests, then,” Bess said. “She isn’t allowed to say no, and there will be zero arguing, or I won’t fix her phone.”

“Can’t wait to hear about that,” I said, my eyes locking with Nyx’s. For a quick moment, I thought I saw some hope there. She smiled. I smiled back.

“We’re going out for pizza tonight. Wanna join us?” Bess asked.

I almost agreed before I heard the jingle of Karma’s collar. “I would, but I’d better stay home and keep an eye on my canine glutton. Karma made himself pretty sick today.”

“Oh, I hope he’s OK,” she said.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, but I probably shouldn’t leave him.”

“You’re such a good guy, Tyler.” With a sweet smile, Bess walked backward toward the house. “Raincheck?”

“Sure.”

“Are we still leaving in five?” Bess called to Nyx.

“Yeah, I’m ready when you are.”

“Cool. See ya, Tyler!”

I waved.

When Bess was inside, I spoke again. “We can continue our conversation later, but I need to warn you about something else.”

Nyx crossed her arms. “Warn me about what?”

“The new D.A., Karina Trammel, has been asking a lot of questions about you and that video you acquired from Harrison Birch’s office.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Me either, but I wanted you to know. She was at shift briefing tonight, questioning some of the guys.”

Nyx smirked. “Awesome.”

“I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate the heads up.”

“Of course. Can I ask you one question about it?”

“Sure.”

“Am I covering for you in some way that I don’t remember? Have I ever known how you got that tape?”

Her face was stone for longer than I would have liked. She was carefully choosing her response. “I acquired the information after the last time you knew who I was.”

I nodded and stepped away from my Jeep. “OK.” I clicked my tongue against my back teeth. “Karma, let’s go.” I opened the back door and he hopped inside.

“Hey, Tyler?”

When I finished buckling Karma in, I looked back at Nyx.

“I am sorry to be so vague with you. I can’t imagine how frustrated you might be.”

“Frustrated doesn’t quite cover it,” I admitted.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t want it to be this way. I just have a lot to figure out.”

Unsure of what else to say, I nodded.

“Let me know what you find on the lake.”

“I will.”

Chapter 11

After another nearly sleepless night, I dropped off Karma at my parents’ house on my way to the hospital. My doctor’s office was on the second floor, above the emergency room. Walking in from the parking garage, I passed a tall, thin blonde in pink scrubs.

“Essex, right?” she asked, startling me in the breezeway.

“Yes. Hi.” I had no idea who this woman was. As a cop in a small city, I interacted with so many people it was impossible to remember them all. “How are you?”

“Exhausted. I worked all night in the ER, so I’m beyond ready to go home and crash.”

If she worked in the emergency room, that was probably how she knew me. Cops frequented the ER, not only for ourselves but for suspect injuries, blood draws on DUI cases, and suicidal threats. “The ER, of course,” I said like this was old information.

Her tired, hazel eyes widened a bit. “Do you remember me?”

Busted.

“Honestly? No, I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK. I’m Celise Kendrick, Nyx’s former sister-in-law.”

No wonder I didn’t remember her. “Of course. You’re Ransom’s wife.”

“Ex-wife,” she said with a smile. “He’s a pickle to live with long term.”

I laughed. “I can imagine. He was my Uber driver a few nights ago.”

“Oh, I heard. You might as well have been a celebrity.” Her face softened, and by the look on her face I knew what was coming. It was a pained countenance  I’d seen a lot of since the cemetery. “I’m so sorry about what happened to you. Nyx told me.”

“Thanks.” I wondered if the condolences would ever stop.

“Are you doing all right?” she asked.

“I guess I’ll find out today.” I pointed up at the building. “I’m here to see if I’m cleared to go back to work.”

“Good luck with that. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to resuming life as normal.”

I wasn’t sure my life would ever be normal again, but I nodded at the sentiment.

“Ransom is kind of in the same boat, although the disruption in his life was mostly self-inflicted with him quitting his job,” she said.

Since she brought him up, I decided to jump out onto a limb. “Celise, can I ask a weird personal question?”

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Feel free not to answer, but Ransom and I were both poisoned that night in the cemetery. Do you know if he’s had any side effects?”

“Ransom is about as in-touch with his body as a ventriloquist doll. He once finished a title fight with an actual brain bleed.”

“Damn. Did he win?”

“Ransom always wins. He’s like a cat with infinite lives.” She hugged her arms. “I’m sorry, I haven’t noticed him acting any stranger than usual. Are you asking about something specific?”

“Memory loss. Did Nyx tell you?”

Her grimace confirmed that Nyx had.

“Has Ransom experienced anything like that?” I asked, secretly—and selfishly—hoping that he had.

“I don’t think so, but Ransom doesn’t put a lot of brainpower behind anything, so I might not even notice if he did. Half the time he seems to forget we’re divorced.”

She was trying to lighten the conversation, but it wasn’t working. “My memory loss seems to only pertain to Nyx. That would be hard to miss if Ransom was experiencing the same thing.”

“Yeah, I guess it would. I’m sorry I’m not more helpful, but the only thing I’ve noticed about Ransom lately is he’s acting like he has nothing to lose. That’s not exactly new, but it’s definitely back after a long hiatus. Recklessness seems to come in waves with him, and it never leads to good places.” Her eyes glistened, but she quickly laughed it off. “Sorry, oversharing.”

“Don’t apologize. I started the oversharing,” I said with a shrug. “Best of luck with him.” From what I’d read about Ransom’s arrest history, I knew she might need all the luck she could get. He’s been on an upward trajectory in the MMA fighting world when drug problems and arrests had effectively ended his successful career.

“Thanks, and I really hope things get better for you soon,” she said.

“I appreciate that.”

We said our goodbyes, and she walked on to the parking garage, and I went inside.

The medical center was a convenient offshoot of the main hospital in Carson City. It had a full-service emergency room, one floor for short-term hospital stays, and a medical transport system to the big hospital for anything more serious. The upper floors were doctor’s offices.

Dr. Kapila had been my family’s doctor since I was a kid. It wasn’t the speediest medical office, but the lobby had coffee, cookies, and the sport’s network on one of the televisions. All in all, it wasn’t the worst place to spend a morning.

I checked in at the desk and settled with a muffin in front of the TV to watch the recap of Monday night football. While I waited, I pulled out my phone. I need to check in with Carly, but that meant she would have my personal contact information.

With a groan, I found the note where she’d airdropped her phone number and sent her a message. Hi, Carly. It’s Sergeant Essex. Are we still on for today at three? As I tapped Send I muttered, “Here we go.”

She didn’t immediately respond, and considering the time of morning, I realized she might not be awake. Sin City’s drive-thru was always open late. It was one of the reasons the third-shift cops loved it.

While I waited, I tapped my photos app and scrolled through my pictures as I had many times since losing my memory. There weren’t many photos of Nyx—there weren’t many photos, period—but the ones of her were very telling of our relationship. She had been at my promotion ceremony to Sergeant. She’d been at the last cookout I’d hosted at my house. And over the summer, I’d taken a rare selfie of us together at the lake. I was shirtless, and she wore a bikini top.

There were zero sunbathing photos with any of the other guys.

I wish she was going out on the boat with me and Shep instead of Carly. The thought was shocking, almost like it came from someone else. It was foreign. Not my own. It felt as though my heart were wishing for something my brain didn’t quite understand.

“Essex?” the female nurse called from the door.

I put my phone away and followed her to the back. She checked my weight, 172, and my blood pressure, temp, and current medications. Then she left me in an exam room to wait for the doctor.

I had a missed call and two text messages waiting on my phone.

The missed call one of the texts were from Carly.

The other text was from Nyx.

I opened Nyx’s message first. What did the doctor say?

Me: Waiting for him now.

Nyx: Cool. Let me know.

I almost asked “Why?” but I didn’t want to. I welcomed the excuse to talk to her again.

Me: 10-4

I tapped the message from Carly. Can you talk?

Giving her my number was a bad idea. Not right now. Are we still on for three?

Carly: I’ll be ready. Where should we meet?

Me: Do you know the police station on the beach near Winter Village?

Carly: Yep

Me: Meet me there.

Carly: OK! I’m packing some snacks. I’ll bring plenty of sweet tea. 🙂

Good grief, she was turning this into a picnic. No food allowed on the boat. It was a lie, but it was kinder than reminding her—again—that this wasn’t a date. It shouldn’t take that long anyway.

Carly: Bummer. I had another dream last night.

Three floating dots indicated she was still typing, so I waited…

And waited.

Dr. Kapila walked in, and I put the phone away. “Good morning, Tyler.” He shook my hand and sat down on a rolling stool.

“I’d like to say ‘long time, no see’ but I can’t. How are you?” I asked.

“I’m one day closer to retirement, so that’s always a good day.” He looked down at my chart. “How are you feeling?”

“Better. Still a bit sore—”

“That’s normal with broken ribs. The pain often lingers even after they’ve healed.”

“Yeah, unfortunately, I’m aware. Other than that, physically, I’m doing well.”

He shined a pen light in my eyes. “And mentally?”

“I’m not sleeping much.”

“Is that abnormal?”

“Not exactly, but it’s been worse since the cemetery.”

“Bad dreams?”

“No. I don’t think I’m sleeping deeply enough to dream, which is probably a blessing considering everything that happened.”

“I’m not surprised. Trauma affects us all differently. Is it impeding your daily functions?”

“I don’t think so. I feel like my nights are a long series of power naps.”

“Would you like me to prescribe something to help you sleep?”

“Let’s hold off for now. You know how I hate taking meds.”

“Yes, I do. How are things otherwise?”

“The memory loss isn’t improving,” I said.

“Has it gotten worse?”

“No.”

“It’s still only surrounding your partner?”

“Nyx isn’t my partner, but yes. Crazy, right?”

“It’s unusual, but it isn’t crazy.” He offered a gentle, reassuring smile as he squeezed my shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, Tyler.”

“Thanks.”

He completed a thorough exam, ending with lots of questions about me returning to full duty. “Are you ready?” he asked bluntly.

“I have no doubts about performing my job without issue, but I’d be lying if said the memory stuff didn’t bother me.”

“We don’t know much about the drug you were poisoned with, but I don’t think it’s the underlying cause of your memory loss. Dissociative amnesia is usually caused by traumatic or stressful events, which makes perfect sense if Ms. Nyx was present during your ordeal in the cemetery.”

“Is there any way to get those memories back?”

“Does the police department employ a psychiatrist?”

I laughed. “You would think, but no. We have a chaplain, and he gave me the name of a psych doctor that works with the department. I met with him once, right after everything happened, but I can’t remember his name off the top of my head.”

“If he was a good fit, and if you’d like to work on getting those lost memories back, you might think about seeing him again. However, I see no reason that it should keep you from the road, if you want to return to work as usual.”

“You think my rib cage is ready?”

“Can you wear your body armor?”

“I tried it on last night. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, it never is, but I could stand it.”

“As long as you can wear it for hours on end, the ribs shouldn’t hold you back. They’re mostly healed by now. I wouldn’t recommend tackling people or fighting, if you can help it.”

“OK. My guys are off for the next couple of days anyway, and next week is our short week. I’ll finish out this week in the office and return to my team next Wednesday. Sound good?”

“Tyler, you still haven’t answered my question. Are you ready?” he asked seriously.

If I’d learned anything in my decade of law enforcement it was that we had to face our demons head on to move past them. For that alone, I was anxious to get back to work.

I took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah, Doc. I’m ready.”

 

Chapter 12 – Part 1

Carly was waiting in the parking lot when Karma and I got to Station Two that afternoon. She’d stopped typing her message earlier, replying simply with: This is too much to text. Can you call? Or, better yet, wanna meet for brunch and discuss in person?

Thankfully, I was too busy, so I didn’t have to bullshit an excuse.

I was interested in what she had to say though. It seemed odd that the dreams had stopped for everyone but her. There had been zero calls since the day she’d come into the station. I partly wondered if she was making it all up at this point to continue spending time with me.

Conceited, I know.

“Good afternoon, Sergeant.” She slung a lime-green corduroy bag over her shoulder as she crossed the lot. She wore colorful mirrored aviators and a pastel pink and blue sweatsuit. Her hair was up in a knot (the way Nyx’s had been), and blonde strands framed her face. Her lips were slathered with bright pink lip gloss, and she had a pale-blue coat draped over her arm. “Hi, Karma!”

I gave his leash enough slack for him to reach her. She knelt and scratched behind his ears.

“Thanks for doing this,” I said.

“Anything for you.” She smiled and stood. “How was your morning?”

“It was good. My doctor cleared me to return to patrol sooner than I’d expected.”

“Congratulations!” She touched my arm when she was close enough. She did that a lot.

I started walking to pull away from her without hurting her feelings. “Again, just so we’re clear—”

“I know, I know.” She fell in step with Karma between us. “You’re not interested.”

At least she couldn’t say I’d led her on.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I like you, but I figured you’d still be hung up on Nyx for a while. What happened to you two anyway?”

I wish I knew.

I opened the glass front door of the station. “It’s a long story.”

She didn’t pry, and I was thankful.

Lieutenant Janine Marsh stood from behind the front desk. “Sergeant Essex, how are you? Hi, Karma!”

“Hello, Janine.” I shook her hand. “I’m well. How are you?”

“I’m great. Thanks for giving me an excuse to come man the Hut today.”

“The Hut?” Carly asked.

“We call this place the Tiki Hut,” I explained.

“It’s gonna be my office next year,” the lieutenant said proudly.

“I’m jealous.” I made quick introductions and looked around. “Where’s Shep?”

“Down at the boathouse. He said to send you down when you got here.”

“Great. Thanks. It’s good to see you,” I said.

“You too, Essex.”

As we walked out the back door onto the deck, Carly lowered her voice. “Shep? What kind of name is that?”

“A nickname. It’s Chief Shepherd Rolland.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of him.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Four years.”

“He was Chief of Police when you moved here.”

Down a paved driveway that ended in a sharp slope into the water, an aluminum boat garage had been built partially over the lake. It was basically three walls and a roof, with an open face out onto the water. There was a side door from the dock, and when we walked through it, only one boat was moored inside. Shep was in the cabin of the lone silver-and-blue twenty-seven footer. He waved when he saw us.

“Follow me,” I said to Carly.

We crossed the front of the room and walked along the narrow boat slip. I lifted Karma over onto the deck, and he immediately went to the helm to greet Shep. Then I stepped onto the boat myself and offered a hand to assist Carly. Of course, she took it.

Any excuse to get touchy-feely…

“This is so cool.” She pulled off her sunglasses and looked around.

“It goes really fast,” I said with a wink.

“I’ll bet.”

Shep stepped out of the cabin, wiping his hands on a rag.

“Having trouble?” I asked, noting the grease.

“Just administering a little TLC.” He looked at Carly. “Hello.”

She waved. “Hi.”

“This is your source?” Shep asked, fighting a smile.

Carly stuck out her hand. “Carly Austin. Pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure’s all mine.” He gave Karma a welcoming rub down.

I put my hands on my hips. “Where are the other boats?”

“Being winterized before the storm. We dry dock them until spring.” He patted the metal wall that encased the helm and the four seats. “She’ll get us there and back. Give me about five minutes to finish checking the fuel line.”

“You got it. Need any help?”

“Nah. Make yourselves comfortable inside. I’ll be done in a jiffy.”

Carly put on her coat and followed Karma and me into the cabin. She and I sat facing each other in the mirrored back seats, with the dog on the floor between us.

She picked up the harness buckle attached to her seat. “Does this thing go airborne or something?”

“Sometimes.”

Her eyes widened. “Can we do that today?”

“You’ll have to ask Shep. He’s the captain.”

Carly leaned into the open doorway on the back of the cabin. “Hey, Chief?”

He was on the stern with the motors, and he turned at the sound of his name.

“How fast can you drive this thing?” she asked.

“I’ve topped her out at forty-five knots.”

She looked at me and lowered her voice. “Knots?”

“A little over fifty miles per hour,” I translated.

“You can really go that fast?” she asked him.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “Can you show me?”

He chuckled. “We’ll see.”

Satisfied, Carly beamed at me.

“You always get your way, don’t you?” I asked.

“Clearly not always.” Smiling, she bit her lower lip.

I felt my cheeks warm, and I looked away.

“But yes. Most of the time.”

“Are you kids ready to do this?” Shep asked, returning to the cabin with two life jackets. Carly and I put them on.

“Ready!” she answered.

“You’d better use the harness,” he said with a mischievous grin.

She laughed and buckled herself into the seat.

“Just be careful with the curves. I’d hate to have to fish Karma out of the water this time of year,” I said, tightening my grip on Karma’s leash.

“Oh, I’ll take it easy on him.” At the wheel, Shep cranked the engine. It rumbled to life quickly before sputtering out. He swore under his breath.

“Everything OK?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just having a little trouble with the fuel line. One second.” He walked back to the outboard motor, tinkered with something, smacked something else with a hammer, and returned to the cockpit. When he cranked the motor again, it gave a healthy roar. “That’s better.” He put the boat in reverse, and we slowly backed out of the boat slip.

When we were facing the lake, he held up a large, rolled paper. “I brought a map!” he shouted over the engine. He tossed it to me. “We can mark the coordinates on here. Which way am I headed?”

I looked at Carly.

“Go past the island toward the cliffs! I’ll tell you when to stop!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Sapphire Lake was surrounded by mountain peaks on three sides and the dam in the east. There were only two manmade beaches: one at Winter Village and one at the Drexler Resort and Casino. The rest of the shoreline was rocky, including the cliffs near Drexler Cove. It was an unofficial title, named for the owner and his family.

Harlan Drexler, real-estate tycoon and heir to the biggest lumber-mill fortune from the Great Nevada Silver Rush, had founded the town of Sapphire Lake with his late father. Together they had converted the family’s sprawling 20,000-acre estate between Lake Tahoe and Carson City into what was now the seventh largest city in the whole state.

Harlan still owned most of it, including his personal residence in the rocky cove overlooking the water and the entire east shore for his golf resort and casino. From our distance, I could barely make out his stone chimney, as the luxurious cabin was camouflaged with the woods surrounding it.

I was glad I’d brought a thick coat. Despite the walls surrounding us, the cold wind chilled the cabin like an icebox. The boat skimmed over the choppy water Karma’s mouth was open, and his tongue was flapped out the side, like a slobbery flag whipping on the breeze.

“Are we getting close?” Shep called over his shoulder.

“Go toward the cove!” Carly answered.

The boat turned, and I held Karma against my legs to keep him from sliding across the deck. When I looked up, Carly was watching me, smiling. “Is he OK?” she asked.

“Yeah, he’s fine. Just worried about him being jostled around too much. He had a rough stomach day yesterday.”

“Poor baby,” she said, poking out her bottom lip.

As we neared the cove, Carly looked all around. “Shep, we’re getting close!” He slowed the engine, and a second later, she held up a hand. “I think this is it!”

He pulled the throttle all the way back, and engine waned to a slow hum. “Here?”

She unbuckled her harness and stood, turning in a full circle. “I think so.” She pointed one of her arms at the cliffs, then moved it toward the cove. Finally, she looked back toward the bridge, just beyond the dam behind us. “Yeah. This is it.”

I got up and went to the cockpit. “Any idea how deep it is here?”

He looked at the depth finder on the dash. “A hundred twenty-eight feet right here, but the signal is bouncing all over the place.”

“You’re sure this is it?” I asked Carly.

“If it’s not exact, it’s very close to what I saw.”

“What she saw in a dream?” Shep asked quietly.

I nodded. “Can you mark this spot on the map?”

Shep got up and carried the map to the back of the boat. He unrolled it on top of the gear box and began to locate the coordinates.

Carly came over and stood beside me, hugging her arms. “It’s creepy isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” I looked down into the water, and chills, not from the cold, rippled my skin.

“You believe there’s something down there, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I hope not.”

“I hope not too, but I have to say, I have a bad feeling.”

So did I, but it wouldn’t help her for me to confirm it.

She straightened and looked around at the horizon. “Well, dead bodies aside, it’s beautiful out here. And it is nice going on a boat ride with you.”

I considered asking her if this was all some big ploy to spend more time with me, but there was no way to word that question without coming across as a complete douchebag. After all, she hadn’t started the spree of dream callers, even if she was the only one who continued them.

“Here we are, Tyler,” Shep said, circling and red “X” on the map. “Problem is, if we move over ten, fifteen feet, boom.” His finger landed on a deep blue gash across the paper. “This trench is almost a thousand feet deep.”

“A thousand feet?” Carly asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” Shep pointed to the mound of dry land we’d passed. “See the island?”

She shielded her eyes with her hand. “Yeah.”

“Before the creek was dammed up and the valley was flooded, Fate’s Island was actually Fate’s Peak. It’s a mountaintop, so all the bottom of the lake is as varied as the mountain range.” Shep pointed to the mountains surrounding us.

“I never knew that.”

“Well, it happened long before your lifetime and mine. Lots of people don’t know the history here.” Shep looked at me. “What do you want to do, Sergeant?”

“Chief said to get divers, water drones, whatever you need to check out what’s down there.”

“He’s putting that much stock into these calls?” He quickly looked at Carly. “No offense, ma’am.”

“None taken.”

“Chief wants to be sure,” I said.

“Guess he doesn’t want to risk falling out of favor with the new mayor.”

The new mayor. I’d been so concerned with the new D.A. that I hadn’t considered the consequence of Sapphire Lake having a new mayor. “I hadn’t even thought about that. The new mayor can replace him.”

“Yep. Chiefs come and go with the changing of that office. I hear they’re holding a special election for it. Any idea when?”

“No, but I’ll find out because you’re right. The vice mayor is standing in till that happens.” 

God, I hated politics.

“Lots of changes around here,” Shep said.

“I know.” I stood at the boat railing and looked down into water so blue it almost looked fake.

Carly leaned on the rail beside me. “How will you get down there? Isn’t it too deep for divers?”

“Yeah. We’ll have to send an ROV,” Shep answered.

“A what?” she asked.

“And remote operated vehicle,” I translated. “Like an underwater drone. It has a video camera and claws for picking up objects.” I made claws with my hands, opening and closing them until she laughed.

“Fancy,” she said.

Before I could comment, a sputtering noise made us both look up. The engine was knocking. Then it died with a gurgle and a puff of black smoke.

“Um…I don’t know much about boats, but that can’t be good,” Carly said, standing behind us.

“No, it’s not.” Shep cursed under his breath as he walked back to the helm. He tried to start it. Nothing happened. “Damn it. And we don’t even have another boat ready to come and get us.”

“What do we do?” I asked.

Shep raked a hand back through his hair. “I have no damn clue.” He pulled out his phone. After a second, someone answered. “Marsh, it’s Shep. The boat died.”

Carly returned to her seat and crossed her legs. “Well, since we have some time, wanna hear about the dream now?”

I sat beside her. “Sure.” My stomach growled so loud Carly snickered. I’d skipped lunch and was regretting it.

“Bet you wish I’d brought those snacks we discussed,” she said.

“Yes, I do. Tell me about the dream.”

“It was actually about you this time.”

“Me?”

“You were in a kitchen with some man I kinda recognize. Short and stout. Gray hair mostly around his temples. The two of you were looking over some papers, and you were eating a hamburger and drinking from a black plastic cup—”

The hair rose on the back of my neck. “Seriously?”

“Does that sound familiar?”

“Yeah. That was me and my dad.” I thought about Karma barking that night at something Dad and I couldn’t see. “What did the room look like?”

“Gray walls, painted white cabinets, stainless steel appliances.”

I raked a hand back through my wind-whipped hair. “Geez, that’s my kitchen.” I was suddenly very thankful I hadn’t accused her of lying. “How did you get into the house?”

“Through the window.”

“My windows weren’t open.”

“I know.” She was grimacing, bracing like she was certain I was about to laugh in her face. “I know it sounds—”

I held up a hand to stop her. “I believe you. Karma freaked out that night, like there was ghost in my house.”

“It wasn’t me, just so you know. I was keenly aware that I was seeing through someone else’s eyes.”

“Whose eyes?”

“No idea.”

Shep walked back to us. “Well, do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“Always good news,” I said.

“One of the boats at the shop is still water ready. Marsh is having them bring it over.”

“And the bad news?” Carly asked.

“They won’t be here for at least an hour.”

I groaned. So did my stomach. “You shoulda brought the snacks,” I said to Carly.

We both laughed.

 

Chapter 12 – Part 2

Before the hour was up, I’d dozed off in my seat.

“Tyler, wake up.” Carly nudged me as she walked out the back of the cabin.

I rubbed my eyes to a flashy white ski boat approaching from the other side of the lake. When it was close enough, I saw its emerald and silver stripes. Harlan Drexler’s boat.

Harlan stood at the helm, his silver hair whipping on the breeze. He wore a dark-green parka, a thick black scarf, and sporting sunglasses. He waved over his head and slowed his boat to idle closer.

“Hello, Harlan!” Shep said, walking out to join me and Carly on the stern.

“Having some trouble, Shep?”

“Problem with the fuel line. I’m afraid we’re dead in the water.”

“That’s a shame. I saw you from the house and wondered what was going. Want a lift back to the shore?”

On the verge of getting hangry, I was out of my seat before Shep could answer. “Mind if I bring my dog?”

“Not at all.” Harlan waved us over. “Good to see you, Sergeant Essex!”

Carly was right behind me, but Shep hung back.

“You coming?” I asked him as Harlan came alongside our boat.

“Nah. You kids go on. I’ll wait it out. A good captain doesn’t abandon the ship.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Positive. I’ve got a good book. Don’t worry about me at all.”

“Carly, you go over first,” I said, reaching for her hand again.

Harlan helped her from the other side. Then I picked up Karma, and Harlan took him, giving a grunt under his weight.

“Sorry about that. He needs to go on a diet.”

“It’s OK.” He gently set Karma onto his deck. “You have a K-9 now?”

“Not quite. He was a flunky.”

“What’s his name?”

“Karma.”

“Hello, Karma.” He stroked the dog’s back before Karma trotted off to inspect the vessel.

“You’re staying, Shep?” I asked.

“Yeah. They’ll be here soon to tow me back in.”

“Well, I’ll stop and check on you on my way back,” Harlan said. “Can I bring you anything?”

“Just some friendly conversation if you’ve got the time.”

“Absolutely. I’ll see you soon.”

“Thank you, Shep!” I called and waved.

“Anytime. Please let me know what you find!”

I gave him a thumbs up and sat on the padded seat on the stern.

Carly waved with both arms. “Thank ya, Captain!”

He pointed at her and grinned. “That’s Chief, missy!”

She laughed and blew him kisses.

Carly was charming; I had to give her that. She turned to Harlan next. “Mr. Drexler, we’ve never met. My name is Carly Austin.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Austin. This is my ski boat, the one I drive when I want to feel young, so please, call me Harlan. I’m sixty-four years old, and I still look around for my father when someone calls me Mr. Drexler.”

She giggled. “OK!”

“Shall I give you a ride back to the station?” he asked both of us.

“Please, and thank you,” I answered. “My stomach’s about to start eating itself.”

“Well, we don’t want that,” Harlan said with a laugh as he idled away from the police boat. “What are you all doing out here this time of year?”

Shit. I hadn’t thought about how to explain what we were doing. Fishing and boating season was mostly over, which was why the station was running only one boat for emergencies.

Carly was watching me carefully, and she spoke up before I could think of excuse. “They were taking me on a marine ride-along, or would it be a float along?”

I smiled gratefully.

“Just in time,” Harlan said. “Boating season is about to completely shut down. I hear the snow is coming soon.”

Carly rubbed her palms together. “Next week. I can’t wait.”

“Are you a skier?”

“Yes, sir. And a snowboarder. Six days a week,” she replied proudly. “I’m an instructor at Sapphire Mountain.”

“Oh. You know I own that.”

Of course he did.

“Well, thank you for giving me a job!”

“Both of us,” I added. “None of us would be in Sapphire Lake without the Drexlers.”

Harlan chuckled. “I guess that’s true. Sergeant, how are you doing after your incident?” He picked up speed, but not so much that we couldn’t hear each other.

“Better, thank you. I was just released from light duty this morning. I’ll go back to the road with my team next week.”

“I’m sorry about your loss at work. It’s always devastating when one of our heroes makes the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Thank you, sir.” I looked away, hoping he would drop the subject. He did. But just when I thought I was in the clear, he spoke again. “How’s your friend Saphera Nyx?”

A vise gripped my throat. “I believe she’s doing well.”

“I hate that I lost her brother. He was one of the best security managers I’ve had.”

I found that a little hard to believe. As much as I knew about him, Ransom was a nice guy, as well as a physical beast, able to crush any adversary, but management? He didn’t seem too “together” in the administration department.

“I hear they’re starting an investigations firm,” Harlan said.

“He showed me a flyer,” I said, fighting a smile.

“He showed me too.” Harlan full on laughed. “I was tempted to let him borrow my marketing team.”

“Who are you talking about?” Carly asked.

“Ransom Nyx,” I said.

“Big muscles guy? Lots of tattoos?”

I nodded. “That’s Ransom.”

“He comes into the restaurant sometimes. Very flirty.”

I’d imagine he was.

“He seems nice though.”

“He is,” Harlan said. He slowed as we neared the station. “Here you are.”

A boat crew was backing one of the other police boats down the ramp.

Harlan slowly eased toward the wooden dock. I offered Carly Karma’s leash. “Mind holding him a second while I tie us up?”

“Of course.” She took the leash. “Come here, Karma.”

Karma jumped up, putting his front paws on her lap.

“Be careful; he’s a humper.”

She laughed.

I walked to the front of the boat and hopped from the rail onto the dock. I tied the boat to the metal dock cleat. “Harlan, are you staying on this side of the lake for a while?”

“No. I just saw your boat in distress, so I came to check it out.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said.

“No trouble at all.”

Carly stopped beside him. “Thanks for the ride, Harlan.”

“I hope to see you around, Ms. Austin.” Harlan followed her to the bow to give her a hand across to the dock. “Come see me at the casino sometime.”

“I will!”

When Carly was safely beside me, I leaned over the railing to pat the padded seat. “Karma.” He hopped up onto it, and I scooped him up into my arms. “Easy now. Don’t freak out.” I carefully lowered him to the dock next to Carly. I gave her his leash again and reached to shake Harlan’s hand. “Thanks again.”

“Go get something to eat, Sergeant,” Harlan said, smiling. “And take this young lady with you. She seems like good company.”

Carly’s face lit up.

“I’ll see you around,” I said as I untied his boat.

“I hope so.” With a wave, he slowly backed away from the dock.

Carly and I started up toward the parking lot. “You heard him. I’m good company,” she said.

“I’ve never doubted that.”

“So food?”

“Sure, but it’s—”

“Not a date,” she finished with a laugh. “I know. I know. Come on. I’m starving too.”

Chapter 13

“Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.” I put down my forkful of potato hash and looked across the stone courtyard of Delaney’s Irish Pub.

Ransom Nyx had double-parked his giant black truck at the curb. He was headed our way with Celise, the woman I’d met at the hospital, and a little girl with long, dark pigtails. Between them, she held each of their hands, and they swung her up onto the sidewalk.

“Yep, that’s who I was thinking of,” Carly said. “He’s Nyx’s brother?”

“Yeah.” I ducked my head, hoping he wouldn’t see me.

“Sarge!” I heard a moment later.

Karma, who’d been lying under the table with his head on my boot, got up at the sound of my name.

I sighed and looked up again. They were headed toward us, and Ransom was waving a bulky arm over his head.

He dwarfed Celise and the little girl. He was dressed like an MMA fighter, with expensive-looking jeans and a tight long-sleeve tee that clung to his muscles. His brown hair was spiked in the middle, and he had a tattoo that stretched up the side of his neck on one side.

Carly popped a fry into her mouth. “Who’s the woman?”

“His ex-wife.”

“She’s pretty.”

They entered the courtyard and walked over to greet us. “Hello, Sergeant Essex,” Celise said. “Nice to see you again so soon.”

Ransom looked at her. “Soon?”

“We bumped into each other at the hospital this morning,” she said.

He looked at me. “You sick?”

Celise backhanded his chest. “Geez, Ransom. Have some boundaries. You don’t ask people why they went to the hospital.”

“You don’t,” he told her, “but he’s my friend.”

I am?

“You good, Sarge?”

I smiled behind my napkin as I wiped my mouth. “I’m fine. It was just a follow up after my—our—in incident. They’re letting me go back to work.”

“Congratulations,” Celise said.

“Thank you.”

She pulled the little girl against her side. “This our daughter, Amelia.”

I smiled. “Hello, Amelia.”

She was a cute kid, dressed like she belonged on a GAP Kids commercial.

“You can call me Milly,” she replied with a toothless smile.

“OK, Milly. You can call me Tyler.”

She waved. “Hi, Tyler. Is this your dog?”

“Yes. You can pet him if you want.” I snapped my fingers. “Karma, platz.”

He stretched out by my chair again, and Milly sat down, crisscrossing her legs, to pet him. “Hi, Karma.”

Karma licked her hand.

“How are old are you?” I asked.

“Six and three quarters.”

I gave a dramatic, but quiet, gasp. “I would have guessed at least sixteen.”

Her small face flushed pink.

When I looked over at Carly, she was watching me with dreamy eyes. “Ransom, Celise, Milly, this is Carly Austin.”

Ransom pointed at her. “You’re the chick from Sin City.”

“She’s the manager, yes,” I quickly corrected him. “Carly and I are working on a case.” I wasn’t sure why I felt the disclaimer was necessary. I shouldn’t care what these people thought about me and Carly…or who they might tell that she and I were dining together.

“Oh!” Ransom reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. From it, he took a business card and handed it to me. “Anything you might need a private investigator for?”

The business card had the same image of the cartoon spy and spyglass. I restrained a laugh and held it up. “If I do, I know who to call. Are you all out for dinner tonight?”

I looked around, and I realized I was looking for his sister. Wondering if they might be meeting her here.

“I’m off tomorrow, and Milly’s school has a teacher work day, so we thought we’d make a night of it,” Celise said.

“Where do you live?” Carly asked.

“Currently Reno, which is quite a haul for me to come to work, but we’re talking about moving closer here. Right?” Celise looked up at Ransom, and I wondered if they lived together despite their divorce.

“Maybe. If my sister and I can get our business off the ground.”

“How’s that going?” I asked.

“Great,” he said with forced confidence. “I’m sure it’ll be booming soon enough. You call me if you need some help on that case.”

“I definitely will. You guys have a nice dinner.”

Celise gave Ransom’s arm a push. “We will. You too.”

“Maybe we could get a table out here,” Ransom said, looking around.

“We’re going to eat inside,” Celise said, giving me a covert wink. “We don’t want to impose.”

I didn’t argue. Being around him was just…weird. I liked Ransom, even if for entertainment value alone, but his presence didn’t sit easily with me.

Because he reminded me of Nyx.

“Enjoy your night.” Celise flashed us a sweet smile.

“You too,” Carly said. “It was nice to meet you.”

“And you,” Celise replied. “Come on, Milly.”

As she got up, Milly patted Karma’s head. “Bye, Karma.”

Ransom shook my hand. “It’s good to see you, brother.”

Brother?

“You too.”

“Bye, Tyler!” Milly waved.

I offered her a fist bump, and she knocked her tiny knuckles against mine. “You too, young princess.”

Milly giggled.

When they were gone, I realized Carly was watching me again. “You like kids?”

I picked up my sandwich. “Yeah.”

“Think you’ll be a dad someday?”

Is this an interview?

“Beats me.” I took a massive bite of corned beef to escape the ability to speak, effectively ending this line of conversation.

With perfect timing, a man in black slacks and a button-up, instead of Delaney’s polo, walked up. “Good evening, friends. How was your meal tonight?”

He must have been a manager.

Carly perked in her seat. “Delicious,” she said, with the same kind of smile she always gave me. I’d told the guys I wasn’t special, and her googley eyes right now proved it.

Couldn’t blame her; the manager was a handsome guy. There was just something about him that gave me pause. It wasn’t exactly distrust, but it was definite dislike. I knew I had a reason. I just couldn’t remember what it was. I’d been in law enforcement for a while, so I hoped I didn’t know him from work. Especially if he was the one handling my food.

Brain fog was a helluva liability for a cop.

“Can I take any of these plates?” he asked.

“If you do I might cry.” Carly lifted a sweet-potato fry slowly to her lips.

He looked at her a long moment. “Aren’t you the manager of the taco place?”

“Don’t believe the rumors,” she whispered, leaning close to him.

“What rumors?” He winked.

“I like you already. What’s your name?” she asked.

“Chael Delaney.”

“Oh!” Carly perked up in her seat. “Like Delaney on the menu?”

He smiled proudly. “The very same.”

“Well, it’s about time we’ve met.” Carly crossed her arms to deepen her cleavage, but Delaney didn’t seem to notice.

“Agreed,” he replied absently. He was looking at me. “You’re Sapphire Lake PD, right?”

Here we go. “Sure am.”

His expression lit up. “Can I ask you a question?”

I was about to be asked how to have a speeding ticket dropped…

“You’re friends with Nyx, right?”

Oh.

His green eyes softened.

This was why I didn’t like him. He had a thing for Nyx. I must have known, back when I’d obviously had a thing for her too. She was also probably the reason I was having trouble piecing together how we’d met. On the upside, it did ease my worry about the spit content of my food.

“Uh…yeah, friends.” I was going to have to come up with better answers to this line of questioning.

“I need to get in touch with her, but she’s moved.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the condos across the street. “Can you help me?” he asked.

So he doesn’t have her number and they aren’t close enough for her to tell him she moved. Not that I cared.

“You don’t have to give me her number without her permission or anything. Could you just get her a message?”

“I guess,” I said, still hesitant.

He noticed, narrowing his eyes with confusion. “You and Nyx are like—” He crossed his fingers. “Right?”

“We were…” I had no idea how to finish that sentence because I wasn’t sure what we were now, besides fucking awkward.

“It’s complicated,” Carly answered for me, batting her eyes up at him.

He held up both hands. “If things are weird, man, don’t even worry about—”

“No, it’s not weird.” Lie. I wiped my mouth with a napkin. For the first few seconds, I wasn’t sure what to tell this guy. I didn’t want to care, but at the same time, I wanted to tell Chael Delaney where he could stick his fish and chips. “What’s the message?”

“Just ask her to get in touch.”

“Sure thing.”

“Excellent. Listen, I really appreciate it. And I also wanted to say that I heard about the shit you and your team went through, and I know you guys lost one of your own. I’m really sorry, man. Dinner is on me tonight.”

“That isn’t necessary.”

“I insist.”

“Thank you,” I said both wildly uncomfortable and gratefully surprised.

“No, thank you.” He put his hands in the prayer position and gave a slight bow. “I hope you’ve both saved room for dessert.”

“Yum. What’s good?” Carly asked.

“They have the best Guinness Chocolate Cake,” I answered.

“Ooo, wanna share a slice?” Carly asked me.

I frowned. “No.”

Her head snapped back. “No?”

Smiling, I shook my head. “Sorry, but I’m not a dessert-sharing kind of guy. That cake is too good.”

“Sorry, man, we’re all out of the Guinness cake,” Chael said, grimacing.

Carly slapped the table and laughed really hard. “That’s karma biting you in your selfish ass right there!”

I laughed so suddenly, I almost choked on my last bite of food. I quickly covered my mouth with the napkin. Delaney laughed too.

“Serves you right.” She sat back in her chair. “What other desserts do you have?” she asked Delaney.

“Tonight we have a chocolate mint cheesecake and a delicious apple crumble with custard sauce.”

“Both sound amazing, but I’ll take the apple crumble.” She leaned toward me. “And I’m not sharing!”

I laughed. “I’ll take the cheesecake,” I told him.

“You got it.”

When he was gone, I pulled out my phone.

“Not a dessert-sharing kind of guy.” Shaking her head, Carly popped another fry into her mouth.

“I am nothing if not honest.”

She leaned back in her chair. “I like that about you.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I didn’t. I texted Nyx instead. I’m at Delaney’s Irish Pub.

Nyx responded before I could finish typing my next part.

Nyx: With a blonde, so I heard. Carly?

She was jealous.

Me: Yes. And Chael Delaney wants you to contact him.

There was a long delay.

Nyx: Tell him I’ll come see him in person.

My jaw clenched.

Me: 10-4.

“What are we doing?” I asked myself and Nyx aloud, before remembering I had company.

“I thought we were about to have our first flight over cake.” Carly craned her neck to try to look at my phone. “You talking to Nyx?”

“Yeah.”

“I could tell by your face. You know curiosity is killing me. What was the long story about you and her?”

“I don’t know what happened.”

“What do you mean? Did you fight?”

“No.” I looked up toward the glittering condos stacked on the mountainside. One of them used to be Nyx’s. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my team when through some shit a few weeks ago.”

Carly’s face wilted. “I had heard, but I figured you didn’t want to talk about it since you haven’t brought it up. Didn’t think it was my place to make you talk about it if it was clear you didn’t want to.”

I blinked with surprise. “I actually appreciate that more than you know.”

She nodded and popped another fry into her mouth.

“I was poisoned that night,” I continued. “And for some reason, the poison caused some crazy memory loss. Everything to do with Nyx was erased, like I never even knew her.”

“Only Nyx?”

I nodded.

“Can the doctors fix it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s so sad.” Carly’s bottom lip poked out. “You guys were so close.”

I shrugged, but my heart ached. “I really don’t remember.”

“Does she?”

“She wasn’t poisoned.”

“Dang.”

Chael Delaney walked back out to the courtyard carrying the cheesecake and the crumble. He put them down in front of us. “Now, how does that look?”

“Doesn’t look like Guinness cake,” I said with a smile.

“Next time you come, I’ll have a whole one just for you. But I promise the cheesecake doesn’t disappoint.” He looked at Carly and lowered his voice. “The apple crumble is my very favorite though.”

Carly lifted a spoonful to her mouth, slowly wrapped her lips around the spoon, and closed her eyes as she sucked it into her mouth. When she swallowed, she licked her lips as she cut her eyes up at Chael. “The best I’ve ever had.”

I almost rolled my eyes.

“Excellent. Can I get you guys anything else right now?” he asked.

“No, but I talked to Nyx,” I said.

His brow lifted.

I dreaded the next part. “She says she’ll come by to see you.”

“That’s great. Thank you so much.” He shook my hand.

“Happy to help,” I lied again.

“I’ll have your server check on you again in a few. If you need anything else at all, just let her know, and please, come back to see us.”

“Thanks, Mr. Delaney,” Carly said.

He backed away. “Please, call me Chael.”

She waved. “Bye, Chael.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I asked when he was gone.

“Sure. I’m an open book.” She took another large bite of her dessert.

“Do you flirt with everybody?”

Carly laughed so suddenly that a drizzle of cream spilled over her lower lip. “Are you for real?”

I picked up my fork. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to know.”

“Why? Are you jealous?”

“No, just intrigued. Do you?”

“Yes.”

Few people surprised me.

“I learned a long time ago that it’s easier to move through life when people like you,” she said.

“Makes sense, but who can tell when you’re truly interested in someone?”

“Easy.” She stared me square in the face. “I tell them.” When she saw that she’d made me sufficiently uncomfortable, she scooped up another spoonful of apple crumble. “And I share.” She offered it to me.

I chuckled and looked away.

“Come on, Tyler. Try it.”

Smiling, I met her eyes again.

She batted her lashes over her large baby blues. “Who knows? You might just fall in love with something new.”

Chapter 14

I didn’t taste Carly’s dessert.

It was clear on my drive home that I wasn’t ready to try anything new. When I’d passed Nyx’s house, I’d slowed my SUV, trying to conjure up a good enough excuse to stop by unannounced. Even Karma had whined as we rolled by, but I didn’t stop.

It wasn’t fair of me to keep dragging her along my roller coaster of loss and confusion. I needed to sort out my head, and the best place to do that was alone.

The next morning, Harlan Drexler’s flashy silver car was parked outside the station. Odd. I’d never seen him at work before.

Valerie was stuffing mailboxes when I stopped to check mine. “Good morning, Sergeant.” She was much more subdued than the day before, and her lids were heavy behind her glasses.

“Good morning. You all right?”

She yawned. “I haven’t slept well this week, probably from caffeine overload for the past two days. My doctor was right; I should stay off coffee. I clearly have no self-control.”

I was already on my second cup and still yawning.

When Karma leaned against Valerie’s legs, she rubbed his head. “Hey, boy. Are you all better from your doughnut binge?”

“Thankfully the gastric explosion didn’t last beyond the other night. He’s been fine since. Even joined Shep and me for the boat ride yesterday.”

“How did that go?” she asked as we started down the hall.

“We marked the spot on the lake that Carly Austin saw in her dream. Then we broke down until Harlan Drexler rescued us on speedboat.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. Is he here? I thought I saw his car out front.”

“He’s in with the chief.”

“Any idea why?”

“Not a clue.”

Chief Magnus walked out of his office when we entered the office wing. “Essex, you’re here. Step into my office. Valerie, please hold all my calls until Sergeant Essex and I are finished talking with Mr. Drexler.”

“Sure thing, Chief,” she replied.

Chief motioned me forward. When I was near enough, he bent to pet Karma, but my dog wasn’t interested.

Through the door, I saw Harlan Drexler stand and straighten his gray suit jacket. It was a much different sight from the casual boat captain I’d seen the day before. Harlan was all business today, from his shiny loafers to his hair gel.

“Want me to take him?” Valerie held out her hand for Karma’s leash. “I promise I won’t poison him again with pastries.”

“I know. Thanks.” I gave it to her and pointed at my dog. “Karma, you behave. You’re not doing to me what you did the other night.”

His eyes widened, and his tail dipped between his legs.

Even the chief laughed. “What did he do the other night?”

“You know that conversation you and I had about trust?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Trust me, Chief. You don’t want to know.” I walked past him into his office.

Harlan stuck out his hand. “Sergeant, good to see you again so soon.”

“Mr. Drexler.”

His handshake was firm and confident, and he smelled of expensive cologne and money. The light from the halogens reflected off his silver hair.

“Have a seat, gentlemen.” Chief motioned toward the chairs across from his desk.

Harlan and I sat across from him, and I placed my backpack on the floor between us. I looked at my boss. “Is everything OK?”

“Yes. Everything is fine. This is actually perfect timing. Harlan stopped by about another matter, but I was about to fill him in on the calls we’ve received this week.” Chief nodded toward Harlan.

Like he owned the room, Harlan sat back and crossed an ankle over his knee. His black sock had a red alligator embroidered on the side. “What calls?”

Chief leaned his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingertips. He looked at me. “Give him all the details, Sergeant.”

I wasn’t even sure where to start. I picked up my backpack, unzipped it, and retrieved the folder full of dream reports.

“This week, we’ve received some very strange reports about dreams.”

“Dreams?” Harlan asked, like he was uncertain he’d heard me correctly.

“Yes, sir.” I handed him my summary sheet on top. “A total of seventeen reports of dreams about bodies in Sapphire Lake have been reported in the past few days. Each caller has described the same scene in the same location. We don’t know the identities—”

Chief Magnus cleared his throat. “All the details, Sergeant. Don’t skip anything.”

I took a deep breath. “Most of the callers described the bodies surfacing near your house.”

Harlan stared at me. After a blinkless few seconds, I leaned to the side and his vision stayed fixed in place. I waved. “Mr. Drexler?”

His face whipped toward the chief. “Am I part of some investigation? Should I have my attorney—”

Chief waved a hand to stop him. “No, Harlan. No one is being investigated because no crime has been committed. These are only dreams.”

Harlan relaxed, but only just. He shifted on his chair, lowering his foot back to the floor. “This is the real reason you were on the lake yesterday?”

Guilt washed over me. “Yes. When you asked, I wasn’t sure what I was at liberty to disclose.”

“Did you find anything?”

“No. The spot is very deep. We’ll have to bring in some special equipment to see what’s down there.”

“What are you going to do about it?” he asked the chief.

“For now, we’re not doing anything about it. They’re dreams, and I don’t want to waste valuable resources mucking up the lake.”

That wasn’t what he’d told me.

“And because of that other thing you told me about,” he added, “I don’t want to draw more media eyes than necessary.”

“Other thing?” I asked.

The two men shared a silent exchange. After a nod from the chief, Harlan turned toward me. “After dropping off you and your friend, I had dinner with the new district attorney. Karina Trammel has asked to hold a press conference at my casino.”

“A press conference about what?” I asked.

“Formal charges against her predecessor, Harrison Birch; ex-mayor, Hector Navarro; and, from the amount and nature of questions she was asking, I would gather that list includes former police corporal Saphera Nyx.”

I wasn’t surprised about Harrison Birch or the mayor. There was audio proof that they were framing an innocent man for a triple homicide. But Nyx? Even though I’d known this might be coming, all personal shit aside, it was a kick to the balls. She’d only done what every officer in this town—including myself—had sworn to do: protect.

“Charging her with what?” I asked.

“The conversation didn’t get that specific,” Harlan answered, “but there was talk of her possessing stolen property, interfering with an investigation, and an older case being thrown out.”

“What case?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s ridiculous. When is this happening?”

“The day before the election.”

“Convenient timing,” I muttered.

“Indeed,” Harlan agreed.

“Did you agree to the press conference?” I asked.

Harlan looked me square in the eye. “I’m still a businessman, Sergeant.”

In other words, the glittery Drexler sign would make a nice backdrop for a press conference that was sure to go viral online.

He turned to the chief. “And I think it’s a wise call to keep the dream thing as quiet as possible until we know more. The first snowfall will be here soon, and bodies in the water is a terrible thing for tourism.”

Harlan owned half the ski slopes between here and Lake Tahoe too.

“I appreciate you keeping me informed, Joe.” Harlan stood and buttoned his suit jacket.

“Of course, Harlan.” Chief stood, reaching across the desk to shake Harlan’s hand.

“Please let me know what you find,” Harland said.

“You’ll be the first call I make.”

Harlan turned to me, offering another handshake. “Good luck with your investigation, Sergeant. Please call if I can be of any assistance.”

“I will. Thank you, sir.”

“Gentlemen.” He tipped an imaginary hat toward us, and Chief walked him to the door.

I hung back and waited. When Harlan left, Magnus shut the door and turned back to me. “I’ve already talked to Shep. We’ll take an unmarked boat and deploy the equipment at dawn.”

Whoa. Mental whiplash.

I pointed in the direction Harlan had just gone. “But you just said—”

“I know what I said, but Harlan Drexler doesn’t call all the shots in this town. And he doesn’t have to know about all of them either. No one does. Outside the department, who all knows you’ve been working on this?”

“My parents; Carly Austin, our source; and Nyx, because you said to talk to her.”

He considered it a moment. “Good, but let’s try to keep a lid on it, if only to avoid the wrath of Harlan.”

“10-4.”

“What did Nyx have to say?”

“Not much. She didn’t know why the dreams were happening.”

“What was her to reaction when you told her?”

I shrugged. “She didn’t really have a reaction. She’d already heard about it from some of the guys.”

“What guys?”

“Delta team.”

He was lost in blank-faced thought for so long that I worried I’d gotten my guys into trouble. “Chief?”

“Hmm?” He snapped out of it, confused but not angry. “What did you say?”

“Just wondering where you went, sir.”

“I was just thinking—”

“You were thinking about Nyx’s reaction. You think either she’s behind it or she knows who is.”

“Tyler, it’s still just dreams.” He sucked at nonchalance.

“But you don’t think it’s just dreams. You’re worried. I’ve seen it in your eyes since the first day I walked in here.”

“Of course I’m worried.” He tossed up both arms. “Tyler, what if there are bodies down there? Right under my nose, in a lake I control boats in? I just packed up my wife and moved across the state for this job. Away from her friends. Away from our kids. Away from the grandkids!” Each sentence grew louder. “And on paper, it doesn’t look like I’m doing too swell being chief here. First the fire at the Drexler, then losing an officer, now possible bodies in the lake?”

I’d crossed a line, so I quickly backpedaled. “I’m sorry, Chief. Of course I understand your concern. I just really want to know how I’m all tied up in this.”

“Because Nyx is in love with you!” He sounded shocked he had to spell it out for me. “Nyx doesn’t like me at all, but I’m pretty sure there is nothing she wouldn’t do for you.” His index finger slammed onto the stack of folders. “And I need her to do this for all of us!”

Well.

I was stunned at his bluntness.

He took a calming breath. “I’m aware this is all very selfish of me, and it’s a long shot that the dreams are true, but it also wouldn’t be the first time the unimaginable has happened around Nyx and her family. You, more than anyone, knows that’s true.”

I needed an antacid.

Chief was like a uniformed parrot preaching my stepdad’s message back to me.

“But why Nyx, sir?”

“Because Nyx is different. If she hasn’t told you how, it’s certainly not my place to. I had hoped the two of you working together might be beneficial for us both.”

It was the closest thing to a straight answer I’d gotten since all my questions began. “Is she the reason my memory is messed up?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

Either Chief was telling the truth or everything I’d learned in interview and interrogation school was wrong.

“I like you, Tyler. You remind me a lot of your father. Both easy-going guys, but non-shit-takers when you have to be.”

I guessed that was a compliment? “I’d just like to know what happened to me.”

“If I could tell you, I would. But hell, even if I could tell you, I’m not sure that I could explain it.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“Nyx has to be the one, so if you really want answers, consider my orders a gift.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And order number one…” He pointed at me. “Make sure Nyx knows about Karina Trammel.”

Chapter 15

On my way home after work, I didn’t hesitate when I slowed at Nyx’s driveway. I pulled straight in and parked in front of her Jeep. I pulled out my phone to text her. Sorry to drop by unannounced, but I’m in your driveway. You busy?

Nyx: I’m on my way home from dinner.

“She’s with a guy” flashed through my mind before I could stop it. Then I realized the time. Who eats dinner before five?

She texted again before I could ask. I’ll be there in 10. Mind waiting?

Me: Nope. See you when you get here.

I rolled down the back window for Karma, reclined my seat, and wondered where she might be. Someone had driven her. Otherwise, her Jeep wouldn’t have been home.

Maybe it’s Chael Delaney…

“Shut up, Tyler,” I said aloud, settling in my seat. I’d just closed my eyes when my phone rang.

Carly.

I hit the answer button. “Sergeant Essex.”

“Tyler, hey, it’s Carly. You busy?”

“I’ve got a couple of minutes. What’s up?”

“I have something for you.”

“Something for me?”

“Yeah. I thought it might be—”

A car horn blasted, and I jumped in my seat. Bess’s green car pulled up beside me.

“Is everything OK?” Carly asked.

Bess waved like a madwoman. Something was on her face.

“Carly, I need to call you back.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll just—”

Karma’s panting and whining to get out drowned out Carly’s voice.

“Karma!” He was pulling so hard against his restraints I feared he might hurt himself. “Gotta call you back, Carly. Sorry!” I ended the call and shut off the engine, then grabbed my phone and got out.

Bess flung open her door. “Hey, Tyler!” The bubblier she was, the more Southern she sounded.

“Hi, Bess.” A colorful bandage, printed with unicorns, was across her nose. “You OK?”

She look puzzled.

I tapped my nose.

“Oh!” She touched hers. “My boss made me put a Band-Aid over my new nose ring.”

“Why?” I opened the back door.

“He said it looked trashy. But, to be fair, it was kinda getting infected.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. My tips have doubled since I started telling the customers that the man is keeping me down.”

I laughed and unbuckled Karma. He bounded out of the back seat like he’d been confined for a year instead of twenty minutes. “Karma, sitz.” The commands were no use. He jumped on her.

She grabbed his paws and danced him around in a circle.

I laughed and crossed my arms. “Sorry, he’s been pretty spoiled this week.”

“Only this week?” Bess laughed and eased my dog back to the ground. “I think he’s pretty spoiled most of the time.”

“Probably. Did you just get off work?” Under her coat and scarf, she wore a Drexler uniform.

“Dinner break. I’m saving up for my own place, so I come home to eat. What are you doing here?”

“I came by to see Nyx.”

Bess dropped her purse strap over her shoulder. “Hate to tell ya, but I don’t think she’s home.”

“I just talked to her. She’s on her way.”

“Good. I’m glad she went.”

“Why? Where is she?”

“Oh, I have no idea. I’m just glad she got out.”

“Is that a big deal?” I asked.

“Kinda. She hasn’t been out much since everything happened…” Guilt flooded Bess’s eyes. “I shouldn’t be blabbing Nyx’s business. She’d totally kick my ass, and my health insurance sucks.”

I smiled, but it quickly faded. Nyx had been hit as hard—or harder—than the rest of our team. At least we all still had each other. After Nyx’s exodus from the department, she was now on the outside, despite how well she was liked.

“Come inside. I’ll make us both a grilled cheese.” She started toward the house before I could come up with a reason not to. “I’ll bet Karma likes cheese!”

My dog almost ripped my arm off.

We followed Bess to the house. Inside, we were greeted by the octopus. It was now wearing devil horns, (I hoped) for Halloween. Bess hung her purse on a tentacle. “May I take your coat?”

“No, thanks. I can’t stay long.”

“Why?” She hung up her coat and scarf. “Because you totally should.”

“You think so?” I asked as she passed me.

She stopped in the doorway of the kitchen and spun around so fast that I ducked backward. “You know what? I do. I think you should stay and fight your way back to that hard-headed roommate of mine.”

Not what I expected.

“Tyler, has anyone told you the truth?” Bess put a hand on her hip.

A lump rose in my throat. I swallowed it back down with a painful gulp. “Um…”

“I didn’t think so.” Shaking her head, she entered the kitchen and pointed to the dinette table. “Sit.”

The house was older, but the kitchen had been renovated sometime in the 90’s, judging by the hunter green and maroon backsplash and faux-gold cabinet knobs. (In the past few weeks, I’d learned more than I ever wanted to know about redecorating.)

I pulled out a chair at the round, polished oak table. “What truth are you talking about?”

“You know what truth.” At the refrigerator, Bess held up two packages of sliced cheese. “American or white cheddar?”

“White cheddar.”

“Good choice.” She carried the cheese, mayonnaise, and butter to the counter, then walked to the pantry, with Karma stalking her every step. “Nyx tried to feed me some bullshit about that poison making you not remember her.”

I looked away. “It’s the truth.”

“Bullshit.”

“You don’t believe me?”

Karma was still on her heels when she returned to the counter with a loaf of bread. “Oh, I believe your memory is messed up. I can also visibly watch your blood pressure rise with the mention of her name, so I’m calling bullshit on you not remembering her at all.”

Bess had a point.

“So what happened?” she asked.

“I don’t know what happened.”

At the stove, she turned on a burner and heated a frying pan. After dropping a massive glob of butter onto it, she laid out slices of bread on a paper towel. Karma danced beneath her, watching every move, waiting for something to drop.

“Do you want to hear what I know?”

I straightened. “More than anything.” Whether out of fear or some well-meaning attempt to spare my feelings, no one had volunteered much information to me in weeks. I probably hadn’t helped. I’d shut down every conversation about Nyx that I could.

Bess opened the refrigerator again. “What do you want to drink? Beer, water—”

“Got any iced tea?”

“Only sweet. I can’t believe how hard it is to find sweet tea in Nevada.”

“Sweet is perfect. Where are you from?” I asked.

“Charleston.” She pulled out a plastic pitcher with a blue lid, and after filling two glasses, she brought one to me.

“Thank you.”

“No prob, Bob.”

Karma followed her back to the counter where she slathered mayonaise on the bread. Swishing his tail across the tiles, he sat lightly on his paws, ready to hawk any morsel that might fall his way.

“What can you tell me, Bess?” I asked, trying to sound patient.

“A month ago, your eyeballs were exploding with hearts every time you looked at her. I mean, they still are, but your eyeballs are hella confused these days. You were in love with her…like, in love with her. And Nyx…” Bess looked up, clearly debating continuing.

“Please say it,” I begged. “I won’t tell her you did.”

Bess lowered the mayonnaise knife. “Nyx was in love with you too. Still is.”

“Did she tell you that?”

“Nyx doesn’t tell anybody anything.”

“Why?”

“Beats the shit outta me.” Bess tore the plastic wrapper off a slice of cheese.

Karma looked ready to pounce. Cheese was his favorite.

“It’s like Nyx always has to be strong and tough for everybody else. I dunno. Maybe it’s because her parents were such screw-ups. Anyway, like I said, she’s probably gonna kick my ass for getting in her business, but somebody oughtta tell you. For both your sakes.” The cheese slice flopped from side to side as she gestured with it. “She’s just as miserable as you—”

“Wrolf!” Karma’s powerful bark made Bess squeal and drop the slice of cheese. He caught it midair and wolfed it down in one gulp.

Panting, she grabbed her chest. “Cheese and rice! He scared the bejeezus outta me!”

“He’s not sorry.” I smiled and clicked my tongue against my back teeth. “Karma.” I snapped my fingers and pointed to my feet. Still licking his chops, he begrudgingly plodded over and flopped down by my chair with a huff.

Bess finished the sandwiches and carried them on a plate to the frying pan. It sizzled and popped when she laid them in the butter. “You really don’t remember anything about her?” she asked.

“Nothing. I don’t even know how we met. I assume at work—”

“No. You met at a bar called the Lucky Beaver a few years ago.”

I knew the place well. A lot of cops frequented there. A lot of criminals and civilians too.

“It was after that accident that made her leave the Army. She said you bet on a game of darts, and if she lost, she had to apply at the police department. She lost.”

I was surprised. “I’ve seen her shooting stats. I find that hard to believe.” Nyx was a better shot than me, by far.

“She said she was drunk.” Bess flipped the sandwiches.

“Have we been seeing each other for three years?”

“Oh no. That only started right before you were poisoned. After watching you two, I was shocked you hadn’t gotten together already. Nyx was downright giddy after it happened.”

I couldn’t imagine stone-cold Saphera Nyx being giddy about anything.

“But you were at our apartment all the time.” Bess smushed the sandwiches with a spatula. “Like every day. And Paps says that wasn’t anything new.”

“Paps?”

Her eyes widened. “You really don’t know anything, huh?”

I shook my head.

“Paps is Nyx’s grandfather.”

“Right. This was his house,” I added.

“Still is, but he’s letting us live here till she figures out her next move.”

“Did she leave the police department because of me?” I asked.

“No. She left the department because she couldn’t expose the mayor and the old D.A. without dragging the police department through a media shit storm.” She put the sandwiches on a plate, turned off the stove, and joined me at the table. “She said you were thinking about leaving so you guys could be together.”

I sighed. “That explains a lot.”

Her brow raised in question.

“I got a call from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office offering me a job.”

“Damn.” She must have noticed my face fall. She handed me a sandwich. “Here. Carbs and cheese make everything better.”

I took it. “Thanks, Bess.”

Something in the room quacked.

Karma perked up, and I looked around.

“Sorry, that’s me.” Bess pulled her phone from her back pocket and looked at the screen. “It’s Nyx. She’s at the gas station down the road. Said to let you in if you beat her home.”

“How’d the bet turn out yesterday?”

“Oh, she lost so hard! I knew she’d never figure it out.” Bess took a bite of her sandwich, then spoke around it. “Now she owes me, big time.”

“Do you know what your three wishes will be?”

“Only one.”

“What is it?”

Her cheeks flushed pink. “I don’t wanna tell you.”

“Why?”

“You’ll think it’s dumb.”

“Try me.” I took a bite of my sandwich.

She put her hands in her lap. “I want her to make me a badass.”

“You what?”

“Nyx is all Terminator-meets-Wonder Woman, you know? I need some of that, so she’s going to teach me.”

I nodded, trying my damnedest to keep a straight. “OK then.”

Bess pointed her grilled cheese at me. “See? I knew you’d think it was dumb.”

“I really don’t. Nyx could probably teach us all a thing or two. What do you want to learn?”

“Fighting, shooting. How to protect myself, really.”

“I think it’s great. Keep me posted on how it goes.”

“I will,” she said brightly.

“You really changed all her noes to yeses?”

“I also changed ‘damn it, Bess’ to ‘I love you, Bess,’ among other things.”

“How did you even get access to do it?”

“She was complaining about her phone listening to her and showing her ads, so I told her I could fix it.”

“You can fix that?” I took out my phone.

“Sure.” She held out her hand.

I hesitated. “You’re not going to jack up mine too, are you?”

“You don’t trust me?”

“Hell no.”

We both laughed.

“That’s fair. I’m just going to shut off access to your microphone from some apps. Watch me.”

I looked over her shoulder as she navigated to my phone’s settings. Bess toggled off the microphone under the details of a few apps.

She pointed to a yellow icon with a megaphone on it. “What’s Yello?”

“No clue. Open it.”

She did, but it didn’t ring any bells.

“The Delta Boys?” she asked, reading the top line. “What are you? Some kind of cultist?” There was a button that said, “Announce.”

At the exact time I remembered what the app was for, Bess lifted the phone to her mouth and pressed the button. “Delta Crew newsflash. Tyler and Nyx are in looove.”

“Shit.” I snatched it away from her.

She laughed. “What?”

Just then, the front door opened, and Nyx walked through it. Her expression needed no explanation: morbid humiliation. And if Bess or I needed confirmation, Nyx held up her phone when someone—probably Rivera—let out a low whistle over the frequency.

Yello was a walkie-talkie app that Delta team had, but rarely used, to communicate in case our radios went down.

“Uh oh,” Bess said around a mouthful of grilled cheese. She laughed awkwardly and slowly got up. “Would you look at the time? I’m gonna be so late for work. It was really nice catching up, Tyler.” She put her hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Good luck.”

“Thanks for the sandwich, Bess.”

She gave Karma one last head scratch and hurried out, turning flat against the wall to avoid Nyx.

I stood as Nyx walked into the kitchen. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi.” She put her keys and phone on the table.

“Sorry about that.”

She walked to the sink. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like everyone didn’t already know.” She took a glass from the cabinet and filled it at the tap. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, secured back with a wide, charcoal-gray headband, and she wore suction-tight gray leggings with a fitted black jacket.

“What’s up?” she asked, not looking at me.

“I have news.”

“Did you find something in the lake?”

“Not yet.”

That made her turn. “Yet?”

“Carly showed us the spot she saw in her dream. Shep is taking a crew out to check the bottom tomorrow.” I grimaced. “Unfortunately, that’s not why I’m here.”

She put down her glass. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“The new D.A. is dropping hints that she might charge you alongside Harrison Birch and Mayor Navarro.”

“Karina Trammel?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve talked to her a few times, but she hasn’t said a word about this. Charge me with what?”

“I don’t know. Maybe possession of stolen property or obstruction.”

“You’re fucking kidding?”

I shook my head. “Chief wanted me to make sure you knew.”

Nyx muttered a few more swear words and turned away to face the window. “That sneaky bitch. I should’ve known. I guess that vow to uphold the law and tell the truth doesn’t mean much.”

Couldn’t argue with that. “You probably don’t, but if you need a recommendation for a good attorney, I can give you some numbers.”

“I know all the same people you know.” There was a bite to her words that made me flinch. She gripped the counter and hung her head. From the side, I saw her eyes press tightly closed. “I’m sorry,” she said with a deep sigh. “This isn’t your fault.”

“And I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

Her eyes were glassy when they focused back out the window. She was blinking back tears. “I just don’t know how much more I can take. I’ve fucking lost everything.”

Without thinking, I walked to her. “I want to help.”

“I wish you could.” She sniffed and dabbed her nose on the back of her hand.

Standing at her back, probably closer than I should, I fought a powerful urge to touch her. “For what it’s worth, I admire what you did.”

She turned slowly. “You do?”

God, she was so close. Pink, from the cold, colored her cheeks, and tiny tears studded her thick, dark eyelashes. Her eyes were so deep and black I could lose myself in them.

My hand took hers before I could stop it. We both looked down as her fingers slipped between mine.

“Tyler…” Her voice cracked.

“Shh.”

Something was happening, and I was terrified that if either of us spoke, whatever it was would stop. Sliding my free hand up the side of her jaw. I tugged her lower lip down with my thumb, and before my better judgment kicked in, I bent to replace my thumb with my lips…

Before I could, the front door opened.

Karma yelped and jumped up.

“Hello?” a male voice called.

The magic shattered.

I stepped back. Still stunned, Nyx touched her lips.

Ransom walked into the kitchen. “Oh, hey, Sarge.”

I cleared my throat. “Hi, Ransom.”

He looked from me to her. “Am I interrupting something?”

Neither of us answered.

“Want me to go?” he asked.

I blinked a few times. “Uh, no. I need to get going anyway.” I clicked my tongue. “Karma.” My dog was sniffing Ransom’s boots. “Karma, let’s go.”

Nyx didn’t stop me.

I grabbed my phone and walked, almost ran, out of the kitchen. I was at my SUV when I realized Karma wasn’t with me. The door to the house opened, and Nyx let him outside.

“Come on!” I yelled to him.

He sat down beside her in the doorway.

“Karma!”

She nudged him out with her boot, and he finally trotted to me. When I opened the back door, he reluctantly hopped inside. Nyx was still watching from the house.

We locked eyes.

Then without another word, I left.

 

ELICIA HYDER IS A ON A SHORT MEDICAL HIATUS. WATCH YOUR EMAIL FOR THE NEXT UPDATE.

In the meantime, have you read Elicia’s #1 bestseller The Soul Summoner? It’s free for Amazon Prime members until sometime in November.